5 May 1985
The Formula One world was all atwitter after the previous race in Portugal, which had seen Ayrton Senna do what most believed him capable of and join the illustrious F1 Winners’ Club, but some still believed him to be a wet-weather specialist “one-trick pony”, while others thought he was a potential champion in the making. Not that any of that mattered to the Tifosi packing into the Imola circuit over the May Day weekend – they had their own talking points. Alboreto was in the championship lead, but had only won one race for the Scuderia so far. Stefan Johansson had shown some talent, but could he hack it in the big time?
Toleman were absent once again, with another appeal to Pirelli for tyre supplies refused as the Italian firm was at the limit of teams it could supply, so aside from Minardi debuting their new Carlo Chiti-designed “Motori Moderni” engines, there was no change on the grid from Portugal.
Senna’s race win may or may not have been a fluke, but there was no doubting Lotus’ qualifying pace as Senna took another storming pole with de Angelis third, the pair split by Rosberg’s usual heroic qualifying lap, just three hundredths off pole himself. In fourth was Alboreto, with Thierry Boutsen an excellent fifth in the Arrows-BMW, outqualifying Prost, who could only manage 6th. Mansell and Lauda were on row four and Nelson Piquet lined up 9th alongside the second Arrows of Berger. Stefan Johansson was 15th after a number of gremlins, with Palmer’s Zakspeed behind him in a superb 17th. The Motori Moderni engine ran well enough to put Martini 19th, ahead of a struggling Francois Hesnault in the second Brabham, 20th and already the subject of rumours that he would be replaced by Arnoux. Brundle and Baldi brought up the rear of the grid.
A Sunday morning shower brought fears of another sodden race but it soon brightened up again and the track was dry by the time the race started. Once more, the Lotus cars got the best start with Senna leading de Angelis off into the first corner, while Rosberg got away slowly and dropped behind Alboreto and Prost, but managed to fend off his team-mate Mansell, who was balked and the two Williamses found themselves leading a small train including Lauda, Cheever, Boutsen and Piquet. Further back, Jonathan Palmer’s Zakspeed had already disappeared with a misfire on the parade lap, sadly wasting his hard work in practice. Senna and de Angelis began to pull out a lead, as did the former over the latter, while Alboreto was having his own problems trying to keep a lively Alain Prost behind him, and behind him was Keke Rosberg who was also looking fast and wanting to make up for his bad start.
For a while it looked as if the two Loti would march off into the distance, but de Angelis began to slip back into the clutches of Alboreto and Prost, while Patrese, Berger, Bellof and Hesnault all disappeared with engine and electrical problems in the first four laps. Niki Lauda was on the move too, disposing of both Williams cars and heading off after Prost, with Piquet glued to his gearbox all the way. On lap 11, de Angelis seemed to lose concentration and Alboreto slipped past, and then Prost went by the following lap as de Angelis struggled with a brake problem. Piquet’s Pirellis were going off already so he peeled into the pits for a new set.
Alboreto got his foot down and, Prost in tow, soon caught up to Senna while de Angelis was passed by Lauda for fourth and Johansson had put in a great charge to get his Ferrari up to seventh, to the delight of the Tifosi. Alboreto was again having difficulty fending off Prost, though, and a few laps later he slowed and the McLaren was through, Alboreto heading into the pits to see about correcting a misfiring engine. He rejoined a way back and set fastest lap – only for the engine to break properly and end his race. Prost, meanwhile, was now hanging onto the back of Senna’s Lotus, with Lauda rapidly approaching in his mirrors, until the experienced Austrian uncharacteristically missed a gear and spun, keeping the car running but dropping back again, his good work undone.
The two leaders were now in traffic and Senna again seemed completely at ease at the front, slicing decisively past Patrick Tambay who accidentally balked Prost. The McLaren driver seemed to back off, accepting six points for second, while behind him the crowd were mesmerised by Stefan Johansson, who passed both Lauda and de Angelis in traffic as the pair lapped Boutsen and Piquet. Still going, he rapidly caught Prost and – to cheers audible even over the screaming engines – went past around the outside at Tosa and took second.
The cheers got even louder as, just three laps from the end, Senna’s engine spluttered and died – out of fuel. Johansson swept by into the lead in just his second race for the iconic team. With just two laps to go, a fairytale win from 15th place was on the cards. Sadly for Stefan, his bad luck struck again: he too
toured off with an empty tank before the lap was done. All of which left Prost, his car turned down to economy settings, to cruise the last couple of laps to victory ahead of de Angelis. Thierry Boutsen was on course for third, but his car too ran out of fuel just before the end. Like Mansell the previous year, he leaped out and pushed for all he was worth – unlike Mansell, he made it across the line before the next car, Patrick Tambay’s Renault, arrived.
But the drama wasn’t done yet. Scrutineering showed that Prost’s car was some 2kg underweight. A disbelieving Ron Dennis asked for a recount, new scales were brought and zeroed in front of him, but the result was the same and Prost was disqualified. The win was thus awarded to Elio de Angelis, his second career win, to send him top of the championship table. Boutsen was promoted to a well-deserved second (equalling Arrows’ best-ever result) with Patrick Tambay third, Lauda fourth, Mansell fifth and Johansson classified sixth – a scant consolation for his efforts but his first Ferrari point nonetheless, and more than either Prost or Senna got.
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