9 September 1984
The Italian Grand Prix would be the last of the year’s races to take place at a known quantity of a circuit, with two new venues finishing off the season, and the high-speed circuit would mean there was a good prospect for more of the same – meaning Prost, Lauda or Piquet – barring reliability problems. The Tyrrell team, however, would not be joining the rest at the historic Monza circuit: having lost their appeal they had been ejected from the remainder of the championship and their cars retrospectively disqualified from the previous three races. Missing too was Ayrton Senna, in the doghouse after the debacle over his signing for Lotus. A seething Alex Penkridge had given him a one-race ban for not notifying him of the talks and instead Stefan Johansson – now not needed at Tyrrell – would drive the number 19 Toleman, with a second car being run once more, piloted by Italian F3 champion Pierluigi Martini, in deference to sponsor Candy’s wish for an Italian driver at Monza. Senna would spend the weekend back home driving a microphone for Brazilian TV. Returning to the grid too was Gerhard Berger, who had worked out a deal with ATS to drive the remaining three races of the season.
Pint-sized Martini’s uncle, Giancarlo Martini, had raced intermittently in Formula 1 during the 1970s with the privateer Scuderia Everest team, owned by Giancarlo Minardi. Young Piero followed in his uncle’s footsteps, progressing through the junior categories until his progress caught the eye of sponsors Parmalat, who were looking for an Italian driver to partner Nelson Piquet at Brabham in 1984. Martini tested but lost out to the Fabi brothers, however he wasn’t to be put off and after winning the European Formula 3 championship he was placed in the second Toleman seat for his Grand Prix debut.
Of course, what the loyal Tifosi had come to see were the Ferraris, but given the year so far, which was turning into Ferrari’s worst in some time, there was little prospect of any fireworks from the boys in red. In fact, anyone who wasn’t convinced of how dire things were at Maranello was left in no doubt when Enzo Ferrari himself held a press conference before the race to state his full confidence in everyone at the team. Ouch.
The fans had little to do then except boo Prost and Piquet and reluctantly applaud for Lauda – a double champion with Ferrari. They were given plenty to boo as Piquet took another pole position with Prost second, de Angelis a second behind the pair in third and Lauda another second adrift in fourth. Fabi would start a career-best fifth, alongside Rosberg, with Mansell, Tambay, Patrese and Cheever completing the top ten – the latter pair making the most of some new bodywork on their Alfa Romeos and hoping to score points for the first time since Rio. Alboreto was top Ferrari in 11th and Arnoux 14th; Stefan Johansson struggled a little after the stress and distraction of the Tyrrell case, putting the Toleman in 17th – though not as much as his new team-mate Martini, who hadn’t so much as sat in the car and was slowest of all, 27th and failing to qualify. The other new(ish) boy, Berger, did better, qualifying 20th and just ahead of Winkelhock.
Race day came and a smaller-than-usual and somewhat subdued crowd watched as Manfred Winkelhock’s ATS was once again unable to complete the formation lap with gearbox problems. The German seemed to have finally lost patience with his team’s inability to give him a working car, and stormed out of the circuit. When the grid finally got away it was Elio de Angelis’ Lotus that got away best, wriggling between the Brabham and the McLaren ahead of him to take the lead – but not for long, as Piquet turned on the BMW grunt and got back past again on the way into the first chicane, then Prost did the same thing at Parabolica, making a daring move around the outside. Meanwhile, Lauda had made a terrible getaway, dropping to 7th behind Tambay, Fabi and Mansell, and the Renault driver was closing on de Angelis too.
Piquet was confident in the lead and began to stretch out quite a cushion over Prost, while Tambay – perhaps energised by his good memories of his Ferrari days – got past de Angelis and set off in pursuit of second place. Alboreto was also keen to make a mark and was moving up rapidly , having got past both of the Alfas into 8th place. Under pressure from Tambay, Prost stepped on the loud pedal and began to close up on Piquet again – only for his TAG engine to expire in a cloud of smoke after just 3 laps, and for the third year in a row the Tifosi got to jeer Prost as he walked back to the pits. Their good humour dissipated just two laps later when Arnoux’s gearbox gave up.
So it was now Tambay and Fabi in pursuit of Piquet in the lead, but the second Brabham had a spin at the second chicane and dropped back to 8th, but kept running and set off to try and make his way back up the field. This left Lauda third, Alboreto fourth and Cheever fifth, the Alfa Romeo finally running well (but having run out of fuel frequently this year, nothing could be counted on). Fabi was on a charge, and was soon back up to fifth, past Cheever, and then on lap 12 he got past Alboreto into fourth. By this time the famous Monza circuit had done its work and there were only 15 cars running with plenty of laps still to run. Alliot’s electrics had gone, then they went in pairs: the Ligiers of Hesnault (spin) and de Cesaris (engine) on lap 8, the Williamses of Rosberg (turbo) and Rosberg (engine) on 9 and 11 respectively, and they were followed shortly after by the Lotus pairing of Mansell (spin, lap 14) and de Angelis (gearbox, lap 15).
Then, on lap 16, Piquet was cruising with a punctured radiator, reducing the field to twelve and promoting Tambay to the lead, with Lauda some distance behind being chased down by Fabi. The second Brabham driver sailed past the McLaren and began eating into Tambay’s seven-second lead, but Lauda sped up to keep in touch with him and by lap 27 the top three runners were together, Fabi snapping at Tambay’s gearbox while the wily Lauda kept a watching brief. On lap 39, Lauda took his chance and got past Fabi at Parabolica, before doing the same to Tambay three laps later to go into the lead. A lap later, Teo Fabi’s engine gave up the ghost followed minutes later by Tambay’s throttle cable; neither driver would have any points to show for their impressive drives today. This left Alboreto second, with Cheever third and Stefan Johansson in fourth – another driver having a good day at Monza. Behind the Toleman was Patrese, driving conservatively to save fuel. Eddie Cheever would wish he’d done the same, his tank running dry six laps from the end. Johansson looked like getting his first podium place until he had to slow down with a broken bearing, allowing Patrese and Ghinzani to get past, though the Osella driver almost immediately ran out of fuel himself and also pulled off.
Lauda cruised to a typical Lauda victory – he had done exactly what was needed and no more, and used his experience to simply outlast everyone else. The Tifosi, however, were more interested the fact that Ferrari were second and Alfa Romeo third, both with Italian drivers (Alboreto and Patrese), and there was satisfaction too for Stefan Johansson picking up three points for fourth place, Jo Gartner in fifth and Gerhard Berger scoring a first point in only his second race. Joy too for Austria, with all three drivers in the points, for ATS finally getting a point on the board, and for Toleman proving that they could do well without Senna. Niki Lauda now held a 9.5 point lead in the championship, which meant if he won the next race he would be crowned 1984 champion.
Perhaps fittingly, that race would be at the venue where he nearly lost his life in 1976…
|2||Alain Prost||52 ½|
|3||Elio de Angelis||29 ½|
|4||René Arnoux||24 ½|
|17||Andrea de Cesaris||2|