19 August 1984
At the three-quarter stage of the season, the teams made their way south to the gorgeously scenic Österreichring with a two-week gap instead of the usual week. The Austrian media were all atwitter at Niki Lauda’s title hopes, and there would be two more local boys to root for as well: Jo Gartner in the Osella and European Formula 3 hotshot Gerhard Berger, who had raised funds for a one-off drive with ATS (to the bemusement of many pundits who pointed out that the shambolic team seemed to have enough on their plate with one car). Stefan Bellof meanwhile returned to Tyrrell after his outing for Porsche sportscars.
Born to a truck magnate in the Austrian Tyrol in 1959, Gerhard Berger started off as a mechanic working on his dad’s trucks, then driving them and eventually in 1979 being given a section of the company to run. However, at this point he discovered racing – to the fury of Berger senior – and despite his father’s objections he raced in local Formula Ford 1600 and Formula Three races before signing up for German F3 in 1982, driving a Martini-Alfa car for Josef Kaufmann’s team. He proved reliable and fast, coming third while not crashing at any stage. For 1983 he moved up to European F3, racing for Helmut Marco’s team, and came 7th overall. He was signed up for two teams in 1984: Pino Trivatello’s F3 team and BMW’s Sportscar programme, and his first international victories came in F3 at the Österreichring and at Monza (the beneficiary of one of the biggest scandals in F3 history when Ivan Capelli’s Coloni was disqualified). By then, ATS were expressing interest, and thanks to the BMW connection, Berger was able to arrange a drive at his home race.
With a special “sprint” car on the lightning-fast circuit, Nelson Piquet set his sixth pole of the year, with local hero Lauda down in fourth, the pair split by Prost and de Angelis. Once again, it was the Renaults on row three, Tambay ahead of Warwick this time, with Fabi, Mansell, Rosberg and Senna making up the top ten and the Ferraris once again out of sorts in 12th (Alboreto) and 15th (Arnoux). Gerhard Berger qualified a comfortable 20th, but the Tyrrells were struggling again, their engines 30mph slower than anything else on the Österreichring’s fast straights. With 28 cars, there would be two non-qualifiers and Stefan Bellof was slowest of all. Huub Rothengatter had engine problems which gave Johansson hope, but the Spirit team managed to borrow a Hart engine from RAM and set a time fast enough to dump both Tyrrells out of the race (and then Bellof was disqualified for running underweight anyway). It would be the first time since 1967 that no car on the starting grid had a Ford Cosworth engine.
85,000 race fans packed into the circuit on a dazzling sunny day and there was a casualty even before the grid lined up: Manfred Winkelhock’s ATS needed a new gearbox after warm-up (the old one having been used to destruction as usual) but the replacement was no better and he stuttered round on his formation lap and had to pull into the pits and retire. The start was a touch on the farcical side: de Angelis stalled before the lights went on and began waving his arms. The starter apparently intended to abort the start but due to electrical problems the lights went green and everyone tried to start, some getting away and doing the best part of a lap before being made aware while others queued up behind the stationary Lotus. Prost got away ahead of Piquet, Senna was pressing Lauda and Rothengatter went flying into a barrier. The starters – sans Rothengatter – formed up for another go and this time everyone got away. Mostly, for Teo Fabi stalled on the line, but Prost got away better again, but this time Piquet was ready and came back past in the first corner. Patrick Tambay had got a great start and slotted in third, with de Angelis behind, then Warwick, Lauda, Senna, Mansell and Rosberg. Further back, the two “minor Austrians” had nearly taken each other out, with Berger managing to keep the ATS on the black bit and Gartner nearly rebounding into his teammate Ghinzani. Gartner’s home debut would be short-lived; his engine packed up on lap 6, by which time Ghinzani was already out.
The Renaults were running well and Warwick soon got past de Angelis, but Lauda was on a charge and made his way past the Lotus and the Renault to go fourth and start chasing Tambay down. Senna was also red-hot and inveigled his Toleman past de Angelis too but overcooked things trying to get past Warwick and dropped back behind the Lotus. The Renaults were running on soft tyres and their challenges ended early as they had to come in and change them on laps 10 (Tambay) and 15 (Warwick), but Piquet and Prost continued up front, the Frenchman sticking with the reigning champion but not in the mood to try anything risky and lose a vital six points. Behind the pair, Niki Lauda was gaining fast to the delight of the crowd, slicing through the backmarkers and setting fastest lap.
On lap 28, de Angelis’ turbo expired in a cloud of smoke and flames, and spread oil all over the Rindtkurve. Piquet hit it and wobbled, Prost hit it and spun into the grass, Lauda carried on as if nothing had happened, now in second place which would put him into the championship lead. Prost could only look on from the sidelines. Ten laps later, Lauda was past Piquet, the crowd almost drowning out the sound of the straining engines. Warwick was already out with an engine fault shortly after his stop, and the laps following Prost’s exit saw four more major retirements: Mansell’s engine on lap 32, Senna’s oil pressure on 35 and Tambay’s engine on lap 42, by which time the race was entering its final stages.
Realising he couldn’t make an impression on Lauda, Piquet circulated in second and hoped for a McLaren breakdown which never came, so Niki Lauda came home to win his home Grand Prix for the first time in his long career. He revealed later that he had lost fourth gear but nobody had even noticed. Piquet came second and Michele Alboreto took third for Ferrari after all the retirements, his car reliable if not fast. Teo Fabi took fourth to give Brabham three more points, while Boutsen led Surer home for a richly-deserved double points finish for Arrows, and their first points with the BMW engines.
|2||Alain Prost||43 ½|
|3||Elio de Angelis||26 ½|
|4||René Arnoux||24 ½|
|17||Andrea de Cesaris||2|