With 8 of 16 rounds gone, it’s time to cast an eye over how things have been going for the teams.
A tale of two drivers: Alain Prost, with three wins and second place in the championship, and Niki Lauda with just three points to show for his title defence. Not the Austrian’s fault, though: he has simply had the lion’s share of the bad luck and unreliability on offer. McLaren have been caught up by Ferrari, Lotus and, to an extent, Williams, and will need to work hard if they wish to return to the dominance they showed in the latter half of 1984.
The team started the year struggling as the only non-turbo runners, though Bellof managed to keep it on the road to take a point in a drenched Portugal and both were in line for points on the mean streets of Detroit until Brundle was taken out by Alliot. The arrival of the Renault turbo engines has not instantly helped matters, with Brundle still qualifying no higher than 20th. More development is needed to trouble the scorers on a more regular basis.
The last couple of years have been trying for the Williams team, so it has been gratifying that 1985 has seen a return to form. While they don’t quite look like regular race winners yet, there is a sense that Rosberg’s win in Detroit wasn’t only a result of his supreme streetfighting skills, and Mansell has also hit the ground running as well, looking refreshed with a change of scenery following his unhappy relations with Lotus manager Peter Warr.
Things are still not working well for the team, and while they had an equally bad start to 1984 followed by a late rally, even if they do the same this year, it’s not exactly progress. Piquet is still qualifying well and giving his best, but the car isn’t working and the engine is too unreliable. Francois Hesnault was an odd choice and Marc Surer has the capability to do well once he’s got the hang of the car, but something radical needs to change with Bernie’s boys.
The pre-season looked promising for the long-sufferering team, with the arrival of Manfred Winkelhock and designer Gustav Brunner, and testing times were good. However, the reliability just isn’t there; Alliot’s style of driving would be more suited to NASCAR and he has only finished once, while Winkelhock has usually kept going just long enough for something to break. With more reliability, they could score some all-important points, but it’s an uphill struggle still.
After years in the doldrums, it’s good to see the Lotus team finally back on terms at the top; the arrival of the mercurial Ayrton Senna seems to have been the shot in the arm everyone needed and he’s had an immediate impact, winning just his second race with the team. He’s had bad luck mechanically since, though, and hasn’t scored again, while Elio has once again been Mr Consistency, scoring in every race but one and taking an inherited win in San Marino, but has only shown flashes of his natural speed and seems rattled by Senna.
La Regie are having an even more torrid time of it than they did last year, with the ever-present rumours of their withdrawal fuelled by dreadful results and a car even slower than last year’s. Patrick Tambay’s brace of 3rd places in Portugal and Imola seemed to bode well, but now look more like a false dawn, and both drivers seem demotivated and resigned. The new RE60B was introduced in France for Tambay and Britain for Warwick, but doesn’t seem to have made any appreciable difference.
Boutsen’s fortunate (albeit popular and well-deserved) second place at Imola aside, the Arrows team have made progress from 1984 to be regular midfield runners, and more importantly reliable finishers. Boutsen in particular has only retired twice, with the most recent one in Silverstone coming off the back of 5 straight top-ten finishes. With a little more luck, the team can be well positioned to benefit from the misfortune of others at the front.
What a come-down from their headline-grabbing 1984 with Ayrton Senna to not even having tyres to race on for the first few races of 1985. Even in the five races they have contested so far, Fabi has been incidental to the action at best and the brightly-painted car has only finished once – 14th in France. The team (and Brian Hart’s engine concern) are simply playing catch-up at the moment and one can only hope that things improve by the end of the year or Benetton, impatient for success, might be on the way out as well.
Farewell, Spirit, we hardly knew ye. While the team yielded to none in their dedication to putting a car on the track and everyone admired their ability to keep running on a shoestring, the sad fact is that money makes the wheels go round in F1 and the Spirit concern had none after being left high and dry by Honda at the end of 1983. That they made it to the start of the 1985 season at all was a credit to all concerned, and hopefully they will, as they promised, be back with new funding in 1986.
If Renault’s season is going badly, then the other underperforming works team are having a real stinker. The new 185T is a disaster, and even the combative Eddie Cheever seems to have largely given up trying, while Patrese is happy enough to drive round and collect a paycheck and look forward to being somewhere else. In fact, Patrese’s spectacular and brainless collision with Piquet in Monaco is about the most TV airtime the Alfas have had so far this season, and the Benetton concern will not stick around if that continues.
Osella find themselves in a similar position to Spirit: the team are willing and enthusiastic but the money isn’t there. They have slipped back since being regular midfielders in 1984, and a combination of no money for spares and the continued dreadfulness of the Alfa Romeo engine have held them back. Ghinzani is donating his talents for free, and the team will hope someone buys in to replace him soon and give the team a much needed cash injection.
While you wouldn’t quite call it a full-blown revival just yet, Ligier have certainly made progress since their dreadful 1983 and 84 seasons, and both drivers have scored points, culminating in Laffite’s admittedly fortuitous third place at Silverstone. De Cesaris seems to have found some of the speed he was lacking last year, while Laffite seems more at home back at his old team than he ever did at Williams. Best of luck to them.
It seems so long ago already that Rene Arnoux was so controversially and unceremoniously sacked, not least because the team don’t seem to have missed him too much. Michele Alboreto leads the championship through sheer consistency, only having one win to Prost’s three, but with four more podium visits adding to his total. Johansson has had a sharp learning curve at his first top-line team, but has responded well and could have won his first race with a modicum of luck – he needs to work on his qualifying game to prevent him being taken out in midfield incidents, but two second places is not too shabby at all in the circumstances.
Both team and driver look utterly out of their depth so far, it’s a shame to say. The black and yellow colour scheme is certainly striking, but the car is simply far, far too slow and Martini too accident-prone to really make any progress. Poor Pierluigi can’t entirely be blamed though, given that he is being asked to essentially singlehandedly test, develop and race the car – a big ask even for an experienced driver, let alone a young rookie.
Erich Zakowski’s outfit look, in contrast to Minardi, pretty professional and in Jonathan Palmer they have an experienced test driver with many miles under his belt even if he has limited race experience (and that mostly in the woeful 1984 RAM). They have only raced five of eight races so far, with one finish, so the jury is definitely still out, and they have always said that this is a development year ready for a full challenge in 1986, but they definitely look the part and have solid backing from the West tobacco people.