17 June 1984
The FIA had arranged the three North American races into a triple-bill beginning with the Canadian race followed a week later by the Detroit race just over the border, then after another two weeks finishing off in Dallas. As the teams arrived in Montreal, the controversy over the Monaco Grand Prix result was still raging despite a FISA missive stating that whatever else happened the results would stand nonetheless. The main problem facing the teams was how to beat the McLarens, who were looking increasingly dominant the more the season continued, especially as their main competitors were in disarray: Brabham had yet to score thanks largely to unreliable engines; Renault were plagued by bad luck, the Williams chassis didn’t suit either driver, Ferrari were mostly anonymous and Lotus only looked good in spurts.
Jonathan Palmer was off driving at Le Mans, and his seat at RAM went to New Zealander Mike Thackwell, who had become the youngest ever F1 driver for Tyrrell back in 1980 but had never made much of an impression since. Also at Le Mans was Mauro Baldi, the sole Spirit being driven by Dutchman Huub Rothengatter, while Corrado Fabi continued in the second Brabham.
Born near Auckland in 1961, Mike Thackwell had been involved in motorsports since the age of nine, helped by his father, an importer of racing and sports cars. He went to school in Perth and came to think of himself as Australian, and won the Western Australia Karting championship at 14, then moving on to Hong Kong karting (which he won in 1975 and 76), then to the UK to join Dunlop’s “Star of Tomorrow” Formula Ford programme. He did well, and came third in his first year there, moving into Formula Three for 1979 where he again came third overall, going into Formula Two in 1980 and testing for the Ensign and Tyrrell F1 teams and was signed up as test driver by Ken Tyrrell at just 19 years old. After a couple of abortive entries in 1980 with Arrows and Tyrrell (qualifying once, he had to give up his third car to the regular driver Derek Daly who had crashed his), he returned to F2 in 1981 and partnered Geoff Lees at Ralt – but a huge accident left him on crutches and prevented his return to F1 as team owners didn’t believe he was fit enough. Finally, in 1984, he was able to dominate Formula Two with Ralt to such an extent that F1 owners became interested again.
Born in 1954 in Bussum, Rothengatter wanted to be a racing driver from a young age and after completing his schooling took an array of jobs to keep the money coming in for his karting kareer. By 1977, he was entering German Formula Three as part of Racing Team Holland alongside Jan Lammers and Arie Luyendijk and he moved up to F2 two years later, finally taking his first race win at Zolder in 1980. He had hoped for a Formula One drive in 1981, but it wasn’t to be and he continued plugging away in F2, gathering sponsorship and trying to get backing for another attempt. It was another few years before, in 1984, he finally had a chance to make his debut with Spirit.
Patrick Tambay’s leg had healed sufficiently for him to try and drive the car but after a few tentative laps he was in too much pain and withdrew, leaving Renault to run a solo car as most of the likely replacements were at Le Mans. Nelson Piquet proved the Brabham was at least still fast by taking pole position, in a new version of the car with a triangular cutaway in the nose for an oil cooler. Alongside him was Prost’s McLaren – again defying their usual “qualify badly and then make up places in the race” strategy. De Angelis and a bruised Warwick were on row two, with the Ferraris of Arnoux and Alboreto behind them. Mansell, Lauda, Senna and de Cesaris made up the top ten, while both newcomers made it onto the grid – Rothengatter 24th and Thackwell 25th – after Tambay’s withdrawal meant everyone would qualify.
The start went cleanly and Prost shot into the lead to no-one’s great surprise, but the reigning world champion fought back and halfway round the lap Piquet was back into the lead. Behind the leading pair, de Angelis and the Ferraris had got past Warwick and were chasing them, but the various Renault-powered were all running with low boost to conserve fuel and Lauda in 8th began moving forward, passing Mansell, Warwick and de Angelis (who had already dropped behind the Ferraris) by the end of lap 5. The Ferraris looked like a tougher nut to crack, though and they were staying ahead of Lauda until on lap 10 Alboreto’s engine blew and on lap 14 Arnoux dived into the pits to change his tyres which were already breaking up. He rejoined 7th while Lauda set about catching his team-mate and the leader Piquet. Prost was having engine trouble at high revs and Piquet seemed happy enough to go just fast enough to stay a few seconds ahead and try and husband his fragile engine, which allowed Lauda to close up on the pair of them. Arnoux, on fresh, soft tyres, had made his way back up to fourth in short order but had no luck making headway on the leading trio. Next came Rosberg, Senna and a terrific scrap between de Cesaris and Cheever.
Mid-distance saw a flurry of technical retirements – Mike Thackwell’s RAM had a Turbo failure on lap 30, Laffite went out with the same problem two laps later, and Rosberg had a timing sensor problem a lap after that. Further back, Riccardo Patrese was dicing with Brundle and put his Alfa into the barriers trying to retake the place. More worryingly for Piquet, both Corrado Fabi’s and Thierry Boutsen’s BMW engines had blown on consecutive laps (39 and 40). Prost, still unable to make any headway, waved Lauda through to see if he had better luck, while such team spirit was in short supply at Lotus where de Angelis was blocking, chopping and weaving to keep Mansell behind him. They were soon lapped by Piquet and as Lauda approached, Mansell finally got past, de Angelis got it all wrong at the first corner and nearly t-boned Lauda as he came back on.
Mansell then set off at a speed that suggested he could have been much further ahead if not for de Angelis, and soon overtook Arnoux for 5th – only to drop back behind both drivers with a gearbox problem. They were all promoted a place when Derek Warwick came in with a suspected puncture, but the new tyres were no better and he came in again to retire, further investigation revealing a damaged undertray.
Piquet did just enough to win, crossing the line for his and Brabham’s first points of the year just 2.5s ahead of Niki Lauda with Prost over 25s behind his team-mate in third but safe enough. De Angelis finished fourth after Arnoux had slowed with a broken exhaust – the Ferrari finished 5th with Mansell 6th, just ahead of Senna. Winkelhock had lost his clutch part way round, but guided the ATS home for its first finish of the year in 8th, while Philippe Alliot saw the chequered flag for the first time in his F1 career in 11th.
As soon as the cars pulled up in the Parc Ferme, Piquet leaped out and stripped off his right boot, revealing some nasty burns caused by the new nose-mounted oil cooler; he had considered retiring but was mindful that the team desperately needed the points. As it was, the Brabham team had shown that if they could get their reliability problems sorted, McLaren might not have it all their own way…
|1||Alain Prost||32 ½|
|3||René Arnoux||16 ½|
|4||Elio de Angelis||15 ½|
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||2|