21 April 1985
The teams arrived for the first European race of the season to the big news that Ferrari had sacked René Arnoux in the weeks following the Brazilian Grand Prix despite his fine drive to fourth, and that Stefan Johansson would be driving the red car instead. Great news for Johansson, who was released amicably from his Toleman contract (given the team still didn’t have any tyres to drive on), but baffling for everyone else. Officially, he needed more time to recover from leg surgery in the off-season, but he had seemed OK at Jacarepagua and scuttlebutt had it that he had in fact fallen out with Enzo Ferrari.
The Estoril circuit had been resurfaced after its debut six months previously, and the finishing touches put to the facilities, which – combined with its beach location – made it an instant hit with the teams. Toleman were there, hoping to score a last-minute tyre deal that would allow them to race (no dice – the cars stayed on the truck and no entry was registered), Stefan Bellof was back in the Tyrrell, and the Zakspeed team were also in attendance to make their debut. Having gained title sponsorship from West German tobacco company West, the team were resplendent in a new red and white livery instead of the silver in which they had been seen in pre-season testing.
The smart money was on the McLarens to dominate once again, but Lotus showed their pace as well in practice and indeed it was a black and gold car on pole position – in it, the yellow helmet of Ayrton Senna, taking his first-ever pole in just his seventeenth attempt. De Angelis looked good too, but was balked on his fast laps and had to settle for fourth, with Prost and Rosberg between them. Behind in 5th place Alboreto in the Ferrari, ahead of Derek Warwick’s Renault (though he professed himself still unhappy with the car and regarded the fast lap as a fluke), then Lauda and de Cesaris in the Ligier. Mansell was 9th after literally getting in the middle of an on-track feud between Patrese and Cheever, with Piquet, similarly delayed, back in 10th. Stefan Johansson started his first race for Ferrari in 11th place, still getting used to the car, alongside Tambay. Winkelhock had qualified his RAM very well in 15th, Hesnault a disappointed 11th in the second Brabham and Jonathan Palmer in the new Zakspeed did well in 23rd, directly ahead of Martini’s Minardi in 25th, and Ghinzani’s Osella would bring up the rear after being disqualified from Saturday’s session with an oversized rear wing.
Rain had come and gone throughout the weekend, but by the time the race began, it had definitely come to stay. As torrents lashed the circuit, Mansell, Cheever and Martini all spun on the formation lap and had to start from the pit lane. The race started on time, though, with Senna making it look easy to sprint away into the lead and team-mate de Angelis getting away equally well to go second, overtaking Prost while Rosberg stalled and had to be push-started. No sooner had he got going than he spun a couple of corners later, cementing a bad start for Williams. Senna, meanwhile, looked confident leading a race for the first time and showed the same control in the wet that had so impressed in Monaco the previous year, to pull out a decent lead almost immediately, while de Angelis struggled to shake off the attentions of Prost’s McLaren.
Alboreto had been promoted to fourth with Rosberg’s stall, and led Warwick and Lauda as they circulated a way behind Prost, but it was beginning already to look as if the main goal was to keep the car on the road. Jonathan Palmer had clipped Rosberg’s stalled Williams from the start and soon decided that the suspension damage was unsafe in the conditions and came in. Alliot put his RAM in the kitty-litter on lap 3, and Hesnault toured off with wet electrics, while a lap later Patrese tried an optimistic move on Johansson for 9th and spun them both – the Alfa was out, but the Ferrari kept going after losing a few places. The two German drivers, Winkelhock and Bellof (up to 14th after a trademark rocket start from 21st), had a similar coming-together which damaged the Tyrrell’s nose, but both continued on the road.
As Senna clocked off the laps, looking completely unfazed by the dreadful conditions, others were falling by the wayside, especially those on Pirelli tyres, whose wet-weather rubber was proving to be utterly useless. Both Ligier drivers found the handling dreadful, de Cesaris simply touring round at the back and Laffite pulling in to retire; Piquet stopped for new tyres several times before conceding that it wasn’t just a duff batch and also giving up. Winkelhock tiptoed around in his RAM, trying to just keep going, while Martini’s Minardi and Baldi’s Spirit were usually seen recovering from a spin or coming in to the pits. Both were out before lap 20. Johansson tripped over the slow-moving Winkelhock and knocked off a front wing, having to come in for repairs, while Rosberg had an engine moment, throwing him into a barrier from 14th when the turbo kicked in unexpectedly, breaking a bone in the Finn’s hand and stranding the car in a dangerous position on the track, from which the efficient Portuguese marshals managed to move it quickly enough not to need to stop the race.
And then the rain got even harder. Lauda lost place to both Renault drivers, while Prost hit a patch of standing water on the main straight, snapping into a spin and completing three full revolutions before hitting something solid and stopping for good. If de Angelis was relieved that Prost was no longer hogging his mirrors, he should have been looking at them, because Alboreto soon bundled past into second place. By this time, Senna was gesticulating for the officials to stop the race, de Angelis had bounced through a gravel trap and lost third place to Tambay, while Lauda had dropped out with an engine problem.
Eventually, the race was stopped, because the two-hour time limit was reached, and Senna had his first race win, and Lotus’ first since 1982. By the time he finished, he’d lapped everyone except second-placed Alboreto (who went into the championship lead) and looked every inch like he belonged on the top step of the podium. Tambay took third and de Angelis trailed in fourth. In fifth and sixth were Mansell and Bellof, both putting in great and largely unnoticed drives to come up from the back of the grid, Bellof in a damaged car no less. Warwick was 7th (having had to stop for repairs after clouting a barrier) and Johansson 8th on a troubled Ferrari debut, possibly glad for all the attention to be on Senna. Piercarlo Ghinzani was the last classified finisher, 6 laps down (and the only Pirelli runner still on the track).
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