1984 Detroit Grand Prix

DetroitDetroit Street Circuit

24 June 1984

Since both American races were happening towards the middle of the country, the titles “US Grand Prix” and “US Grand Prix West” didn’t seem appropriate, so the third edition of the race in Detroit was simply titled the “Detroit Grand Prix” – with the following race designated the “Dallas Grand Prix” to match. The Detroit street circuit was widely detested by drivers and teams, and it didn’t even have the glamour of Monaco to compensate, but it had been popular with the fans and from a championship point of view it was a good leveller – more of an endurance run than a speed test, which had thrown up some interesting results in the past.

Teo Fabi was back in the pitlane, admitting that the decision to race both CART and F1 may have been a mistake, as he was spending much of each meeting just getting used to the other car again. He was trying to find a way to get out of his commitment to Dick Forsythe’s team but was stuck with it for the moment. The Spirit team had a problem, too – their sole Hart turbo engine had developed a misfire in Canada and they hadn’t had time to fix it in the intervening 7 days, so with a bit of work they readied their chassis to use a Ford Cosworth DFY powerplant. Mauro Baldi was still trying to get some sponsorship together so Huub Rothengatter would keep the drive for the time being.

DET RosbergAfter his race win in Canada and his dreadful season so far, Piquet was fired up and dominated practice, taking pole position seven tenths faster than Prost despite losing a cylinder part way round his fastest lap. In third place was Nigel Mansell, who seemed at his best on street circuits, with Alboreto alongside. De Angelis and Warwick filled row three, with an excellent Senna seventh, then Cheever and Tambay, back after his leg injuries. Niki Lauda could only manage 8th after having his best time disqualified for having a rear wing 3mm too wide (the team said it had expanded in the heat). With a full field again, there’d be one unlucky non-qualifier – to no-one’s great surprise it was Rothengatter in the makeshift Spirit-Ford, almost a full second slower than Ghinzani’s Osella.

1984 DET startWhen the lights went green, Mansell was quickest off the line, and tried to squiggle through the gap between Prost and Piquet – unfortunately, it turned out to be slightly smaller than his Lotus and he bumped into the Brabham, shoving it across into the concrete wall which scattered debris all across the track, damaging Alboreto’s radiator and smashing Senna’s front suspension. Alliot spun off avoiding the Brabham, but Surer had nowhere to go and t-boned it in his Arrows. With debris everywhere, the authorities made the decision to red-flag the race and try again. Half an hour later, Piquet, Alboreto and Senna were in their spare cars (most without the various tweaks and extras the race cars had), with Piquet nursing a sore neck from his collision with Surer. The Swiss driver wouldn’t take the restart as Arrows didn’t have a spare car available, so 25 drivers came off the line the second time, as Piquet this time shot off into the lead, pursued by Prost, Mansell and Alboreto in the spare Ferrari.

DET Start incidentPiquet was looking majestic given a second chance and began pulling away from Prost at a rate of knots for the first few laps – however it was soon clear that the McLaren was having problems and after 8 laps he suddenly lost grip and let Mansell through. The Lotus driver, seeing an opportunity for glory, got his foot down and ate into Piquet’s lead at some two seconds a lap until he was right on the champion’s gearbox. For four laps Mansell harried Piquet but it wasn’t to be – as in Canada, his gearbox started playing up again, which dropped him back down the field again. Piquet was left with a huge lead, and was able to carefully husband his Michelins on the rough surface, while others wore theirs out trying to catch up: Prost and Warwick both pitting for fresh tyres before the race was thirty laps old. Nigel Mansell struggled on with several gears missing until finally giving up on lap 28, by which time he was in good company: Winkelhock, Palmer, Ghinzani, Hesnault, Patrese and Senna had all crashed, and Arnoux, Cheever, Cecotto, de Cesaris and Boutsen were all out with technical failures – Cheever a particularly unlucky recipient of a blown engine after a fine run to third place.

DET PiquetBy half distance, Piquet led Alboreto and de Angelis comfortably, with Rosberg wrangling his unco-operative Williams into fourth ahead of the two Tyrrells, Brundle and Bellof. Catching them were Prost and Warwick, now on harder compound tyres, with Lauda back down in 11th. Lap 34 turned out to be a bit of a demolition derby in its own right as four cars retired: Lauda had a misfiring engine, Alliot clouted a barrier and demolished his car, Tambay ended an unhappy race with gearbox failure and Stefan Bellof wiped a wheel off on his way into the pits for his coolant stop. Brundle had had his own water stop earlier and provided most of the sparse entertainment in the second half of the race as he carved back up through the field in his nimble Tyrrell to be back on Rosberg’s tail. Prost was chasing, but got a puncture and suddenly spun, missing all the walls but having to limp round for another new set of tyres.

DET BrundleOn lap 47, Brundle was promoted to fourth when Rosberg’s turbo failed, and two laps later he was third when the engine in Alboreto’s spare Ferrari went phut. De Angelis suffered a case of Lotus Gearbox, losing second gear and lots of time, so Brundle was able to get by into a stunning second place. In fact, with just a few laps to go the Tyrrell was catching Piquet at a rate of knots as the champion nursed his car home, but the English driver showed enough maturity to accept second place rather than put his car in a wall pushing for the win.

Nelson Piquet thus took his second win in a row to put himself back in the championship fight, up to fourth after just two points finishes. Brundle and de Angelis took the other two podium places, the Italian having finished in every race so far this year, seven of them in the points, to run a fine third in the championship. Teo Fabi capped a good afternoon for Brabham by scoring his first points of the year in fourth, with Prost an unhappy fifth and Laffite sixth – a point not a bad reward for an almost completely anonymous race.

The last two races had changed the complexion of the championship somewhat: the dominant McLarens had looked distinctly ordinary while Piquet had looked untouchable. Pundits recalled the way Piquet had come from seemingly nowhere in the second half of the 1983 season to win, and wondered if 1984 might go the same way…


Drivers Championship
1 Alain Prost 34 ½
2 Niki Lauda 24
3 Elio de Angelis 19 ½
4 Nelson Piquet 18
5 René Arnoux 16 ½
6 Derek Warwick 13
7 Keke Rosberg 11
8 Michele Alboreto 9
9 Martin Brundle 8
10 Patrick Tambay 7
11 Stefan Bellof 5
= Nigel Mansell 5
13 Ayrton Senna 4
14 Eddie Cheever 3
= Riccardo Patrese 3
= Teo Fabi 3
17 Andrea de Cesaris 2
18 Thierry Boutsen 1
= Jacques Laffite 1
Constructors Championship
1 McLaren 57 ½
2 Ferrari 25 ½
3 Lotus 25 ½
4 Brabham 21
5 Renault 20
6 Tyrrell 13
7 Williams 12
8 Alfa Romeo 6
9 Toleman 4
10 Ligier 2
11 Arrows 1
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2 thoughts on “1984 Detroit Grand Prix

  1. I was just reading about this race for a different reason today. Some sources seem to say Senna crashed of his own accord in the race, while others (e.g., Wikipedia) say he crashed due to a rear wheel coming off. Do you have any insights into this?

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    1. No, it seems to be a bit of a mystery – one of my sources says his front wishbone broke and he hit a wall, another says a rear wheel came off. I’ve not heard the “crashed deliberately” theory and it doesn’t seem like him, but he was in the spare car without the race-tuned engine, so you never know if he was getting frustrated.

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