7 April 1985
Pre-season testing, followed closely as usual by fans and pundits alike, had shown a couple of interesting things. The McLarens were still fast, but so was Michele Alboreto in his Ferrari, who had been fastest in the last set of tests, and Ayrton Senna in the Lotus. When the teams arrived in Rio for the first race of the season, though, it was time to see how testing form would translate into race pace. Minardi were the only one of the three new teams who made the journey from Europe, and Toleman were absent because of their tyre issues. Their driver Stefan Johansson was in town though, which proved useful for him when Stefan Bellof was suspended by Ken Tyrrell due to ongoing dispute over pay. Johansson borrowed a spare helmet from Keke Rosberg and stepped back into the Tyrrell cockpit.
Qualifying saw Michele Alboreto continue his fine form from testing to take pole position, a tenth ahead of Keke Rosberg – who put in his usual gung-ho lap in last year’s car (with a dicky clutch, as it turned out) to take second. On row two were the Lotus cars of de Angelis and Senna, who the Brazilian crowd had taken to their hearts at the expense of Piquet. If not for failing to find clear track on Saturday, the black cars could easily have taken the front row based on their pace from Friday. On row three were Mansell and Prost, the Englishman enjoying a good debut so far for Williams, while anyone excited that Prost was so far down would do well to remember that McLaren had a habit of neglecting qualifying performance in favour of getting the race setup right. Arnoux, a disappointed Piquet, Lauda and Warwick made up the top ten. With Toleman absent there were only 25 entries, so everyone qualified, even Pierluigi Martini in his Minardi, who was 14 seconds adrift of Alboreto and 3 behind next-slowest Baldi’s Spirit, before blowing his engine in Friday’s session and causing merriment among the others when the team’s inexperienced mechanics didn’t get it replaced in time for Saturday.
The Minardi men had a new VFY in the car in time for Sunday’s race, though, and everyone lined up on the grid in hot, sunny weather. The lights went out and Rosberg hared off into the lead while Alboreto bogged down and got away slowly, but just stayed ahead of a fast-starting Prost. Mansell tried to get through but bumped wheels with the Ferrari and spun off into the gravel, rejoining near the back. During the first lap, Rosberg pulled out a two-and-a-half second lead over Alboreto, who was leading Prost and the Loti (Senna now ahead of de Angelis), Arnoux, Piquet and Lauda, with a gap already developing to Patrese in 9th. Alboreto wasn’t going to be left behind, though, and started reeling Rosberg back in, while Piquet’s miserable home race continued as he pulled off after just two laps with a dud transmission.
Mansell didn’t last much longer, having damaged his exhaust sufficiently to light up the back of his Williams on lap 9, and as he pulled off Prost was stuck to the back of Alboreto, looking for a way past but being kept behind by the Ferrari’s power. Two laps later, it became a battle for the lead when Rosberg’s turbo expired, while Lauda was moving up as well, passing Senna for third on lap 14. Five laps later, Alboreto missed a gear and Prost took his chance, sweeping past into the lead and immediately pulling out a large gap, while Alboreto now had Lauda in his mirrors. The world champion, however, was to begin his title defence with a retirement as his computerised fuel-management system went haywire and he first dropped back and then pulled into the pits on lap 27.
By this time, drivers were starting to come in for their planned tyre stops. De Angelis was first on lap 25, but his rear wheelnut stuck and the crew took 18 seconds to get him going again, dropping him to sixth behind Arnoux and de Cesaris, who was back to his old attacking self in the improved Ligier. Too much so, in fact, as he misjudged his braking and clouted the back of Arnoux’s Ferrari. De Cesaris skidded into retirement while Arnoux limped almost a full lap around to the pits with a punctured left-rear.
Prost, with a 21 second lead by this stage, and Alboreto came in on the same lap and Senna a lap later, and when the stops shook out the leaders were back in place – Prost, Alboreto, Senna and de Angelis, now followed by Tambay’s Renault and Alliot’s RAM, an encouraging debut from the new car. Behind them, Arnoux was carving back up throught the field, and soon took 6th from Alliot. That became 5th when Senna’s Lotus developed an electrical fault, bringing the local hero’s fine race to an end on lap 48, and 4th when he overtook Tambay.
And that was where they finished – the racing petering out as the top six became more separated and Prost simply reeled off the laps to take his seventeenth career win, with Ferrari second (Alboreto) and fourth (Arnoux), bracketing de Angelis, with Tambay fourth and Jacques Laffite sixth in the Ligier. Johansson and Brundle in the Tyrrells were 7th and 8th, leading home Philippe Alliot, whose 9th place was an encouragement to a RAM team whose 1984 season had been such a disaster. Warwick, Boutsen, Ghinzani and Winkelhock made up the remaining finishers, all 4 laps down on Prost.
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