3 June 1984
The transporters rolled into the principality once again, for the race that the teams hate and everyone else loves – despite the cramped conditions and unforgiving circuit, it’s the one that all drivers want to win, sponsors love the glamour and race fans love the close-quarter racing. The last few years had seen some classic races – 1981 had seen Gilles Villeneuve chase down Alan Jones to win a popular victory, 1982’s race had been turned on its head by late rain, with Patrese winning after spinning and stalling on the last lap, and in 1983, Keke Rosberg had produced a fine display to win against the run of form.
The proposed street Grand Prix in Fuengirola was called off after owners admitted that they wouldn’t be able to get the circuit built during the tourist season, so instead the FIA struck a deal with the Portuguese government to use the newly-updated Estoril circuit near Lisbon. Teo Fabi was in Milwaukee honouring his CART commitments, so brother Corrado would drive the second Brabham.
As usual, the grid was reduced to 20 runners at Monaco and pre-qualifying was dispensed with as there were only 27 entrants anyway. At the front, Alain Prost took his first McLaren pole, amid worried looks from the rest of the field – previously the McLarens had been ordinary in qualifying and made it up in the race, which had been everyone’s best hope of beating them in the race where overtaking was difficult. Alongside Prost was Nigel Mansell, making his first front-row start in the Lotus. The Ferraris were on row two, the Renaults on the third row, de Cesaris took a fine seventh slot in the Ligier, ahead of Lauda, Piquet and Rosberg rounding out the top ten. The two Alfas had both been dreadful on Thursday, but Patrese had found a tweak that improved his times no end, putting him 14th, but he didn’t pass the information on to Cheever who would sit the race out, fuming, after failing to qualify. He was joined by Martin Brundle, who had a huge crash which left him thankfully uninjured but concussed and was withdrawn, Boutsen (in the dreadfully-handling turbo Arrows), both RAMs and Baldi’s Spirit.
The previous two races at Monaco had been gloomy, damp and drizzly, but in 1984 the heavens opened and stayed open. It rained all the way through the warm-up, and before the race the circuit’s organisers – at Niki Lauda’s suggestion – turned the fire hoses on the tunnel section to avoid a dry section of track which would wear the treaded tyres. Even in dry conditions, the start at Monaco is often fraught, and so it proved in 1984. Prost got away well, followed by Mansell, but Warwick tried to get ahead of the Ferraris into Ste Devote, but clipped Arnoux and bounced off into his team-mate Tambay, putting both into the barriers. De Cesaris tried to avoid them and was clouted by his team-mate Hesnault. The field behind managed to get through – though de Angelis and Patrese both had to stop and reverse to get round the incident – but despite the low impact speed the two Renault drivers were both hurt: Warwick limped away with a bruised left leg – having bruised the right leg at Dijon – while Tambay was stretchered off with a broken leg. The experienced marshals saw Tambay into an ambulance and cleared the wreckage before Prost and Mansell came back around with Arnoux and Alboreto a short way behind. Lauda was catching the red cars, followed by Rosberg, Winkelhock, Laffite and Senna. Stefan Bellof had qualified 20th and last, but after another great start and first lap was now running 10th.
Johnny Cecotto spun off on the second lap at Ste Devote, just as Senna elbowed past Laffite, while Lauda was also moving forwards, getting by both Ferraris by lap five but unable to pull away. There were incidents throughout the field, as drivers struggled to cope with the wet conditions, though no retirements as everyone managed to keep their cars going – albeit further back in many cases, most notably Alboreto who swapped ends at Ste Devote and rejoined 15th and last after a shove from the marshals (who must have been running out of space to store retired cars).
Meanwhile, up front, Mansell was driving really well and pushing Prost, and when the pair unexpectedly came upon Corrado Fabi’s Brabham, both took avoiding action and Mansell was quicker to recover and got through into the lead. He began to pull away from the McLaren, stretching his lead for five laps until, pushing too hard, he slid on a road marking and hit the barrier, damaging his rear wing and, as it turned out, his suspension as well, which gave way a couple of corners later, putting him out. Prost thus re-took the lead with his team-mate Lauda some distance back. Behind the McLaren pair, Ayrton Senna had wrestled his Toleman up into third place after finally making his way past Rosberg, and more easily past Arnoux and was actually gaining on Lauda. Similarly, Stefan Bellof – his DFY engine’s sharp throttle response proving an advantage – was also past Rosberg and shaping up to try and take Arnoux.
Senna seemed to be actually enjoying the wet conditions, which did much to level the playing field, and caught and passed the experienced Lauda with the minimum of fuss, and began to reel in Prost. In fact, both McLarens seemed to be having trouble; Lauda was dropping back and the Arnoux/Bellof/Rosberg/Winkelhock chain was approaching fast in his mirrors. Winkelhock was having a good race until he slid off at the chicane on lap 23 while trying to pass Rosberg, and a lap later Lauda followed him into retirement, losing the rear end at Casino Square. This promoted Arnoux to third, but he had his mirrors full of Bellof’s black Tyrrell and three laps later the German was past, banging wheels as Arnoux tried to move over on him. Once past, Bellof was able to start pulling away and chasing Senna in second place.
Prost was losing four seconds a lap to the Brazilian’s Toleman by now, with braking problems on the McLaren, and it was starting to look like Senna (or even Bellof, who was catching the Brazilian) might record a win in only their sixth Grand Prix. On lap 31, Prost went through the start-finish straight gesticulating at the officials. The following lap, marshals showed a red flag and a chequered flag, indicating that the race would be abandoned. Prost immediately pulled over and began arguing with the officials, while Senna blasted past, crossing the line with both fists in the air and followed closely by Bellof.
Once everyone was back in the Parc Ferme, it was announced that the results would be taken from the end of the previous lap, and all hell broke loose. Prost and Rosberg wanted to know why the race had been allowed to continue in the dreadful conditions, while Senna and Bellof wanted to know why it had been stopped when it had, given there had been no change in the conditions. Many thought that the answer to that was to make sure Prost won, though opinion was divided on whether the guilty party was the French marshals, or clerk of the course Jacky Ickx who was a Porsche sportscar driver (the German firm being the designer of the McLaren’s “TAG” engines).
Prost looked satisfied on the podium with his first Monaco win but both Senna and Bellof – who in other circumstances should have been delighted with their first podium finishes – wore distinctly fixed smiles and cleared off as soon as was politic. With half points being awarded for the race, Arnoux, Rosberg and de Angelis were the other scorers and Alboreto, Ghinzani and Laffite the only other finishers.
|1||Alain Prost||28 ½|
|3||René Arnoux||14 ½|
|5||Elio de Angelis||12 ½|
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||2|