7 July 1985
Williams’ great showing in Detroit had been a break from the Lotus/Ferrari battle, but both Rosberg and Mansell had reputations as street circuit specialists and most expected business as usual on the long, hot straights of the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France. Alain Prost hoped to be in the mix too after a slightly lacklustre early season, while the Renault team often improved dramatically on home tarmac – and the team had a revised RE60B chassis on hand for Patrick Tambay to give them their best chance of a result. Further French interest was added with the debut of Tyrrell’s Renault-powered car, though both available chassis were given to Martin Brundle, with Stefan Bellof continuing with the Ford DFY. Zakspeed were back too after their absence from the North American tour.
Keke Rosberg put in a typically gung-ho qualifying lap to take pole position, and turned some heads in the process by taking the Signes kink near-flat. Senna was alongside for his sixth front-row start in a row, and behind were Alboreto and Prost, with Piquet and Lauda on row three – a vast improvement for both of them. De Angelis, an excellent Berger, and the Renaults of Tambay and Warwick made up the top ten; Nigel Mansell had set a time good enough for 8th, but after having a puncture on the Mistral straight and ploughing straight into the catch fencing, he would miss the race with concussion. The new Tyrrell could only manage 20th in Brundle’s hands, but Bellof was even slower – 25th and last on the grid, 12 seconds off the pace.
Race day dawned clear and bright and by the race start the temperatures were soaring. Prost and Lauda had topped the time sheets for practice, but the Frenchman got a sluggish start and lost place to Piquet, who shot up to third behind Rosberg and Senna, with Alboreto, de Angelis, Lauda, Berger and Prost following through. Prost wasn’t stuck behind the Arrows for long, though, and Berger soon lost another place to Andrea de Cesaris in the Ligier. However, the blue cars were to have a dismal home race; Jacques Laffite’s turbo broke on lap 3, and de Cesaris only went two more laps before his driveshaft broke. Meanwhile, up front, Rosberg was drawing slightly away from Senna and Alboreto, with the McLarens closing in on de Angelis in the second Lotus. On lap 6, Alboreto’s Ferrari engine expired in a plume of smoke and dumped oil all over the Signes kink.
Piquet’s tyres were finally working for him and his BMW power got him past Senna on lap 7, and started to reel in Rosberg who had a lead of some 3 seconds. Berger’s race ended on lap 20 when he was sideswiped by Martini, and a few laps later Senna peeled into the pits with an attack of Lotus Gearbox, his race run. Piquet had caught Rosberg, and sailed past at Signes, defended his line against the Williams’ comeback, and settled into the lead as if the previous six races of frustration hadn’t happened. Rosberg, his soft tyres fading, conceded the place and began to drop back into the clutches of the McLarens, who had disposed of de Angelis and were running well. Rosberg, Lauda and Piquet had a thrilling three-way battle for second until the Austrian’s gearbox broke and he retired, leaving Prost to take up the attack. On lap 39, the Frenchman finally forced his way past Rosberg into second place, at which point the Finn peeled in for new tyres. A slick stop saw him only lose one place, to de Angelis.
Prost was chasing Piquet but was unable to make much impression on the powerful Brabham-BMW, and soon he had Rosberg back in his mirrors again – with new tyres, he had been the fastest thing on the track, easily getting third place back from de Angelis, who then lost fourth to a late charge by Johansson, who had struggled with understeer for most of the race. On the last lap, Rosberg squeezed back past Prost to take second, but it was Piquet who looked comfortable and in control for his first win of the year, and Pirelli’s first win since 1957. De Angelis held on to fifth place (for the third race in succession) while Patrick Tambay took the final point in the Renault, followed by Warwick in 7th. The Renault team’s home-race boost seemed to have been absent this year, and rumours were once again circulating that the factory would be pulling the plug at the end of the year.
In 1984, Piquet and Brabham’s season had turned around after a good showing in the North American rounds – was a similar revival on the cards for 1985?
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