6 May 1984
With Ferrari’s sudden return to form in Belgium, the Tifosi were once again out in force for the San Marino Grand Prix, but McLaren, Williams, Lotus, Brabham and Renault were also talking confidently of their chances. There was an extra car here, with Osella running one of last year’s cars, not eligible for points, for Jo Gartner – the Imola track was close to their factory in Volpiano and it would please the sponsors to get some additional exposure too. Over at Arrows, it was Surer’s turn to take the BMW-powered cars with Boutsen back in the old A6.
Viennese Gartner was born in 1954, when the city was still divided between four occupying powers, and it wasn’t until his early 20s that he took his first step into racing, having saved up enough to buy a Super Vee car – a series that was to Volkswagen what Formula Renault or Formula Ford was to their respective manufacturers. Gartner was extremely fast in his Super Vee, coming second in the 1978 series and moving straight up to Formula 3, then Formula 2 in successive years. Driving a self-entered year-old Toleman chassis in 1981, he scored himself a seat at the Merzario team for 1982 but it turned out to be a backward step and so in 1983 he went back out on his own again, with finance from EMCO and a Spirit chassis. He won a chaotic race at Pau when Alain Ferte was disqualified. His profile was raised again within Austria and he got sponsorship from Austrian tobacco brand Milde Sorte to try and make the final step into Formula One.
Friday practice was preceded by a rain shower, so the day’s times were set on a damp track, with the Ferraris down in 10th (Arnoux) and 24th (Alboreto) and the Tolemans not running after a falling-out with Pirelli left them with no tyres. It rained again on Saturday, but the track dried out more quickly and times were better. The Ferraris improved, but still didn’t do as well as the Tifosi wanted: Arnoux was 6th and Alboreto 13th. Instead it was Nelson Piquet on pole with Prost alongside, then Rosberg, Warwick and Lauda in front of Arnoux. The Lotus pair had done badly, with de Angelis 15th and Mansell 18th, while Berne Ecclestone (with his FOCA hat on) had negotiated a truce between Toleman and Pirelli that saw Cecotto get onto the grid in 19th, though Senna had boost problems anyway and failed to qualify. He joined Piercarlo Ghinzani in sitting out the race, though Gartner in the old Osella did squeak onto the grid in 26th.
With the Tifosi a little downhearted after practice, Sunday was dry and the grid lined up for the start – except for de Cesaris, whose Ligier would start for the pit lane after a failure to start. For the fourth race in a row, not all the cars left the grid when the lights went green – Rosberg lurched forward, stopped and then very slowly got going; Lauda failed to find first gear and went nowhere fast for precious seconds, while Palmer stalled entirely and was push-started. As the field weaved around the stationary cars, Hesnault’s Ligier collided with Laffite’s Williams and was out, while a similar incident saw Tambay run into the back of Cheever and was likewise out. While all of this was going on, Prost had got away well and taken the lead from Piquet, with Warwick and Arnoux chasing and Alboreto leaping up from 13th to 6th at the start to slot in behind Winkelhock’s ATS.
There wasn’t much movement at the front over the first ten laps or so, but further back, Niki Lauda was on a charge after his dreadful start, and was carving his way up through the field. Soon he was up behind Alboreto and passed both Ferraris and the ATS as if they were standing still and set off after Warwick – until his TAG engine turned smoke machine on lap 15 and he was out. No sooner had he done so than Prost locked his brakes and spun, but thankfully from McLaren’s point of view he kept it going and didn’t even lose the lead. Piquet and Warwick were losing touch with Prost, both running hard tyres and planning to go non-stop, but they were racing each other and on lap 22 Warwick got ahead, only to have to back right off again with his engine misfiring. Behind them were the Ferraris, unable to make any headway on Piquet and Warwick, and behind them were Teo Fabi and Manfred Winkelhock.
Further back, de Cesaris and Cheever were having good races and the Italian was up in the top six by halfway when the tyre stops started, thanks to Alboreto touring off with a broken exhaust. Prost was so far ahead by then that he was in and out and still in the lead by over 20 seconds when he came in on lap 29.
Winkelhock’s BMW engine expired predictably enough on lap 32, and Marc Surer’s BMW powerplant did the same eight laps later, the first two of a series of engine failures in the second half of the race, which saw Jo Gartner disappear on lap 47, just before Piquet and Fabi completed a clean sweep of broken Bavarian engines, again failing on the same lap – 49 – as each other.
Derek Warwick was up to second but not for long – his fuel-induced misfire problems were getting worse and Arnoux made his way past the ailing Renault, who lost more places to de Angelis’ Lotus and de Cesaris’ Ligier and had Cheever’s Alfa Romeo in his mirrors as well. However, as Prost cruised to a dominant win ahead of Arnoux and de Angelis, both the Ligier and the Alfa pulled over out of fuel, allowing Warwick to retake a place and come home fourth. Fifth and sixth were taken by Bellof and Boutsen, both driving Cosworth cars with no fuel worries – it was the Belgian’s first career point.
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