Cutting all ties with the March organisation hadn’t helped RAM any in 1984, and neither had increased sponsorship and turbo engines. Skoal Bandit, the chewing tobacco people, turned a few heads by agreeing to continue sponsoring the team in 1985 – many had expected them to fold after yet another dreadful season – and the team could actually look forward to better times. Testing seemed to indicate that the new RAM 03 chassis was actually quite good – it was penned by Gustav Brunner, with Dave Kelly out on his ear. Coming along with Brunner was his old ATS buddy Manfred Winkelhock, himself no slouch in the driving department, to partner Philippe Alliot.
Having stuck with the ATS through thick and thin – and there was considerably more thin – the popular West German driver’s reserves of patience and good humour turned out not to be infinite after all. The season started so brightly, with the BMW engine providing bags of grunt, Winkelhock usually qualifying well and turning a few heads with a fine run in Belgium. But the chaotic and bizarre management at ATS, the daft decision to run two cars while barely coping with one, and as a final straw being pushed off the formation lap with a broken gearbox twice in three races cracked the cheerful veneer and caused an acrimonious split, with Winkelhock showing up with lawyers in tow to ensure he got paid. A drive in the second Brabham in Portugal put him in the shop window and gave him a chance to show what he could do.
Given Alliot’s less than stellar record in junior formulae led most to predict he would be blown away by the more experienced Jonathan Palmer in 1984. In the event, he held his own, though he was usually the slower of the two – just not by as big a margin as everyone thought. As nominal team leader, he got the new car first, which was a poisoned chalice if ever there was one, and although he spent most of the season as a mobile chicane it was hardly his fault, and the car was simply so awful it’s difficult to really assess Alliot’s ability. He will be hoping the new 03 chassis is kinder to him, and that he is able to make the most of it.