21 October 1984
The Estoril circuit had been built in 1972 and hosted a number of domestic events, but had recently been significantly upgraded by the Portuguese government and when the proposed Fuengirola street circuit fell through, it had the chance to host its first Formula One race and Portugal’s first since 1960. As with the new Nürburgring, the circuit was something of an unknown quantity, but on paper it looked fast, and less likely to conjure up surprises than the German circuit (which hadn’t conjured many anyway).
In the intervening weeks, FISA had updated the World Championship standings to reflect Tyrrell’s exclusion from the whole season, moving up everyone who had finished behind them. While it didn’t turn the table on its head, it did give Prost an extra point to cut Lauda’s championship lead to just 3.5, gave de Angelis an extra 2.5 points as he tried to hold onto third in the table against Piquet’s comeback, and Boutsen, Senna, Fabi and de Cesaris were among the other beneficiaries.
McLaren, to underline their lack of favouritism, brought two spare cars, one each for Lauda and Prost to avoid any potential problems like Prost’s at the Nürburgring. Elsewhere, Renault were running a third car for their long-term test driver, Frenchman Philippe Streiff, although he would not be eligible for points, while Gerhard Berger changed number to ATS’s “main” number, 14. Manfred Winkelhock, meanwhile, was an unexpected occupant of the second Brabham seat: Teo Fabi had heard on Thursday night of the death of his father and had flown out to Italy to be with the family (as had his brother Corrado), and with Winkelhock not doing anything else he was drafted in.
The Grenoble-born Streiff came late to motor racing, not entering his first race until the age of 22, in 1977, and moving into French Formula Renault that year, winning a race in his first season and finishing fifth. He quickly moved into European Formula Three with a privately-entered Martini chassis, first with Renault and then Toyota power, before returning to French F3 for 1981, winning the tltle with Ecure Motul Nogaro. This gave him the opening he wanted into Formula 2, where he joined the tiny garage-based AGS team along with Motul backing. He spent three years as a regular front-runner with AGS but won no races until the very end of 1984. At the same time, he had been assisting the Renault F1 team with testing miles, and as a reward he was offered a drive in a non-scoring third car at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Winkelhock missed Thursday’s familiarisation session and Friday morning was rained off (incidentally showing up some issues with the drainage on the circuit), so an extra session was arranged but with the track still damp, it was all down to Saturday’s second session. Nelson Piquet had turbocharger problems but still managed to take pole position – his 9th of 1984 – with Alain Prost taking up his now usual spot alongside. Ayrton Senna marked his last race for Toleman with the his (and their) best ever grid position, 3rd, ahead of Rosberg, who had pulled out a phenomenal lap in the spare Williams to set a time with less than a minute to go. On row three were the two Loti of de Angelis and Mansell. What about Lauda? 11th, after a series of technical gremlins, and only two places ahead of Streiff. With 27 entrants, Alliot was the unlucky non-qualifier, but with Streiff being an “extra” and Winkelhock drafted in at the last minute, all concerned agreed to let Alliot start in 27th.
Race day came and fans and commentators around the world tried to get their heads around the permutations that might occur. Prost would win the title if he won, while Lauda was no higher than 3rd, or was second with Lauda fifth or lower, or at a pinch third with Lauda not scoring. Lauda would secure his third title outright if he was 1st or 2nd. 3rd or 4th would work if Prost didn’t win, while if Prost finished third or lower, 5th or 6th might suffice. And of course, if Prost failed to finish, Lauda would win by default, even if he didn’t finish either.
Sunday was sunny, and the cars drew onto the grid with everyone watching the two red and white McLaren cars, and the blue and white Brabham of Piquet who could not win the championship but could certainly affect the outcome. Nobody was watching Keke Rosberg until the 1982 champion went right around Prost, Piquet and Senna to take the lead straight away. Following him through was Nigel Mansell, with Prost, Piquet and Senna tucking in behind. As the cars jockeyed for position, Piquet spun and ended up at the back of the field and out of contention. Lauda was still 11th after a safe rather than a fast start, but he now started to move up the field, while Alain Prost set about getting past Mansell and Rosberg – who had been confirmed as Williams teammates for 1985 in the lead-up to the race. The little Frenchman wasted no time in out-dragging Mansell on the start-finish straight, but Rosberg was a different proposition, his Williams-Honda finally working for him and he held Prost up sufficiently that Mansell was harrying the McLaren to try and regain second place.
On lap 9, Prost finally made his way past Rosberg, while Lauda was still in 9th place behind Johansson’s Toleman as the Swede battled with de Angelis over 7th place. With Prost leading, the Austrian needed second place, and Mansell nearly helped him and embarrassed himself when he tried to take Rosberg down the inside and the pair almost collided. Fortunately for Mansell, and unfortunately for Lauda, the Lotus driver managed to bale out of the move and continue his battle until he made it through successfully on lap 12, with Lauda still firmly stuck behind Johansson. He moved up a place when Warwick pitted for new tyres after running wide, and another place when de Angelis dropped back with a misfire and allowed both through.
Johansson and Lauda soon found themselves attached to the back of a queue of three cars; Rosberg was now holding up Senna and Alboreto, and Johansson and Lauda were approaching the three. Senna got past the Williams and immediately pulled away, but Lauda still couldn’t make any impression on Johansson, the Toleman having just too much straight-line speed, and the Swedish driver having too much experience in traffic to fall for any of Lauda’s moves. It took until lap 27 for
Lauda to force his way past, knocking Johansson’s front wing off in the process as they both lapped Ghinzani.
Released from his personal roadblock, he moved on with a vengeance, picking off Alboreto then Rosberg to go fouth, then chasing down Senna for third, and he passed the rookie Brazilian on lap 34, but now had a bigger problem: Nigel Mansell was well over half a minute ahead and occupying the second place that Lauda needed for the championship. He put his foot down once more and began to slowly gain on the Lotus – but too slowly, reeling in a tenth here, half a second there, and after 15 laps he wasn’t much closer. And then, on lap 53, it came good for the Austrian. Mansell’s brakes suddenly gave out and he toured round to retire, leaving Lauda second.
All Lauda had to do to win the title was to finish where he was, so he eased off. Prost could only stay in front and hope Lauda’s car broke, so he too eased off lest his was the one that broke. Senna, now third, realised he was too far behind to challenge, so he too eased off, though was mindful of Alboreto in his mirrors. And so, with a disappointingly processional final third of the race, that was where they finished. Alain Prost didn’t break down and took his seventh win of the season to Lauda’s five, equalling Jim Clark’s 1965 record. Niki Lauda didn’t break down either and took his third world title by the smallest possible margin – just half a point. Senna kept Alboreto behind him to take the third podium finish of his beyond-impressive first year in F1. Alboreto finished fourth, completing his season-long demolition job on team-mate Arnoux and taking fourth place in the table ahead of Piquet. De Angelis was fifth and Piquet sixth.
And there it was – Niki Lauda capped his comeback with a third world title, achieved with the team that had been his main rivals for most of his first stint in F1; Prost could only wonder what he had to do to win the title himself, after coming so close three times. Everyone else was left to hope that someone could step up to challenge the McLarens in 1985.
* Jo Gartner and Gerhard Berger had finished in points-paying positions in Italy, but as both were additional drivers their points were ruled ineligible.
|Drivers Championship – Final Standings|
|2||Alain Prost||71 ½|
|3||Elio de Angelis||34|
|4||Michele Alboreto||30 ½|
|8||Keke Rosberg||20 ½|
|18||Andrea de Cesaris||3|
|Constructors Championship – Final standings|