2 June 1985
Two weeks after the Monaco Grand Prix, the teams convened at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix, all looking forward to a return to the historic track that had hosted the 1983 race. About the only complaint anyone had had about the newly renovated circuit was the amount of standing water on the track when it rained, so the Belgian organisers had had the circuit resurfaced with a new type of tarmac that promised to assist drainage. However, between a lack of planning on the Belgian side and a lack of inspection on the FISA side, the work was only completed 14 days before the race.
Francois Hesnault would not be present; having failed to qualify in Monaco, any remaining confidence had been obliterated by a horrific testing accident which left him wrapped in the catch fencing and unable to escape. He retired from F1 on the spot, and Brabham hired Swiss driver Marc Surer as a replacement.
Surer had endured a torrid 1984 with the Arrows team, after a good 1983 in which he had shown himself a potent racer. He just couldn’t seem to get the hang of the new turbo-powered car and lost heart very quickly when the car just wouldn’t work for him. He occasionally showed sparks when a good scrap presented itself, but it was no real surprise – although a shame – that he elected not to return to F1 in 1985, instead driving Porsche sportscars for the Kremer team. However, the chance to drive for a top team like Brabham was too good to miss.
Friday practice went ahead in good weather, with Alboreto setting the fastest time, faster than the 1983 pole time and ahead of the Lotus twins of de Angelis and Senna. A new lighter Renault helped Tambay to fourth, with Johansson’s Ferrari and Rosberg’s Williams making up the top six. But there seemed to be a problem with the new surface; the sticky qualifying tyres were going off even quicker than usual, some barely able to get a flying lap out of them, and ruts were starting to appear, notably at the fearsome Eau Rouge complex. In other places, the surface was starting to break up. An inspection team went out and found it was even worse than it seemed – the surface on the racetrack sections (not on the public road sections which had matured under traffic) was falling apart rapidly. Hydrocar, the company who had laid the surface, were called in and worked through the night to effect repairs. Saturday Practice was delayed, then abandoned as it became obvious that the repairs had made matters worse if anything. Nelson Piquet’s visor was cracked by a flying stone, Alboreto pronounced it “undriveable”, and the drivers headed by Niki Lauda refused to participate further.
In Dallas last year there had been a similar situation but the race had gone ahead – the full stands and relatively low speeds had encouraged the drivers to participate, but Spa was a different kettle of fish entirely – the fastest cars were hitting 190mph through Eau Rouge and any departure from the track would have been serious if not fatal. So the race was cancelled on the Saturday evening, an official statement put out and fans given refunds and free tickets for the Formula 3000 race postponed from Saturday afternoon to Sunday – the less powerful cars were though to be safe enough on the circuit, though the number of excursions and spins during that race suggested that the right decision had been made.
The race was provisionally rescheduled for 15 September, replacing the Rome street circuit idea that had fallen through, and subject to strict inspections.