20 May 1984
This 70th edition of the French Grand Prix was back at Dijon after two years at Paul Ricard, and the Renault team would be hoping that they would have their usual upswing in form at their home race. Fuel capacities were the talk of the paddock as the teams got together on Thursday. The current regulations mandated a tank size of 220l, to be reduced to 195l for next year. However, most of the turbo teams were finding it hard to finish a race on 220l, let along a further reduced capacity, and were arguing for the 220l limit to be kept (though Renault and Alfa Romeo, with the thirstiest engines, were pushing for an increase to 250l. However, Ken Tyrrell – whose team were using non-turbo Cosworth engines and not having any fuel problems – declined to add his voice to the others and without unanimity no pressure could be brought to bear on the FIA.
Toleman finally had their new TG184 chassis ready after extensive testing, and were now shod in Michelins after their public spat with Pirelli. while it was Boutsen’s turn for the BMW-powered Arrows. Lotus had a revised rear wing, meanwhile, Renault were trialling a fuel-heating system to improve consumption and ATS had a new, lighter chassis for Winkelhock. Once more, Mauro Baldi scraped together enough funds for a race, the Spirit now running almost completely white and unsponsored.
Qualifying saw the Renault boys again benefitting from home advantage, allowing Tambay to record the team’s first pole of 1984, though Warwick could only manage 7th after blowing an engine and having to use the spare. Alongside Tambay was Elio de Angelis, the rear wing tweaks apparently working wonders, ahead of Piquet and Rosberg on row two, then Prost and Mansell on row three. Andrea de Cesaris set a fine time on Friday to go 9th, but his time was disallowed after his fire-extinguisher was found to be empty, in a bizarre repeat of his disqualification last year with a different team. On Saturday, it rained and de Cesaris was miles off recording a good enough time for the grid – until his team-mate Hesnault “voluntarily” withdrew from 14th place, allowing de Cesaris to start 26th. Hesnault was slightly reluctant, but eventually issued a statement through clenched teeth to the effect that it was his own decision to withdraw, not team orders. Nobody believed him.
For the first time in 1984, nobody stalled on the grid and the field dashed through into the first corner. Tambay had been a trifle slow off the line but managed to hold position thanks to de Angelis and Piquet rubbing wheels. He was hotly pursued by de Angelis and Mansell, who had made a great start from sixth. Warwick had also started well and was just behind Rosberg, who was still suffering from understeer problems. On lap three, Warwick overtook Rosberg to make it Renault engines in the top four places and Rosberg now holding up Piquet, Prost and Lauda. The two McLarens looked fast, but despite Dijon’s flowing layout there was only one real passing spot – the main straight and first corner – and they were making slow progress. Nonetheless, after a couple of laps they were past Rosberg (who had already lost place to Piquet) almost in unison, allowing Prost to reel in and pass Piquet and Warwick in short order to slot into third. He drove straight up to Mansell, but found the Englishman a tougher nut to crack. For six laps, the Lotus balked and weaved until Prost finally got past, by which time Lauda was also bearing down on him. Prost then chased down de Angelis and took second. Piquet’s BMW blew up again on lap 12, so the defending champion was still without points after five races.
Prost’s charge next saw him coming up to his compatriot Tambay, who wasn’t going to make things easy for him either – by this time the pair were into traffic and Tambay used the backmarkers to their best effect, but Prost just couldn’t be shaken – even when badly held up by Palmer’s RAM, he was right back up with Tambay a few corners later. But suddenly, on lap 28, Prost dived into the pits, taking his pit crew and everyone else by surprise. The team did a great job to change all four wheels at zero notice and sent him back out in 11th place.
Tambay didn’t get a break though, because Lauda was now right on his gearbox and harrying and pressurising the Renault driver and eventually, on lap 40, it worked. Tambay made a tiny mistake, running slightly wide at Bretelle and Lauda took his chance, diving through into the lead and immediately tearing away into the distance. Mansell was now third, but Warwick was bearing down on him. The pair came to lap Surer in the Cosworth Arrows, and it all went wrong: Mansell got through but Warwick clobbered the Arrows and ended up in a fence with a badly bruised leg. This put a still-charging Prost up to fourth, but he was back in the pits before long trying to trace a brake problem which put him back down to 10th with it all to do once more.
When the pitstops shook out, Tambay had a great one and retook the lead from Lauda who had stopped very late, but the McLaren was just superlative and he breezed past six laps later – and that was that. Niki Lauda took the win with Tambay settling for second after a less-than-stellar start to the year. Mansell hung on for third, with Arnoux taking fourth for Ferrari on an otherwise entirely anonymous day. De Angelis and Rosberg made up the points scorers on a day of relatively low attrition and Alain Prost just missed out in 7th place. Laffite was 8th and in 9th place, Teo Fabi made Brabham’s first finish of the year and indeed saw the chequered flag for the first time in his F1 career.
|5||Elio de Angelis||12|
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