18 August 1985
The week before the Austrian Grand Prix, tragedy had struck Formula One, even with no race happening; competing in the Mosport 1000km in Canada, Manfred Winkelhock crashed his Kremer Porsche 962 sportscar heavily at turn 2, smashing straight into the concrete barriers. It took the rescue teams 25 minutes to extricate Winkelhock from his car with massive head and leg injuries, and the popular German driver died of his injuries 24 hours later.
Niki Lauda had had a disappointing season so far, having had more than his fair share of the bad luck and technical gremlins on offer at McLaren, and he arrived at his home circuit with only two points finishes to his name, neither on the podium. So it was with sadness but no great surprise that his home fans heard the announcement that he would retire – for good this time – at the end of the season. With over a decade in Formula One and three world titles under his belt, Niki Lauda had nothing left to prove. Speculation immediately began over his successor at McLaren.
Lauda’s announcement and WInkelhock’s death (not to mention the ongoing scandal in the Austrian wine industry) were the big talking points in the Styrian mountains, with the championship battle between Alboreto, Prost and the slightly fading de Angelis taking the back burner. RAM Racing moved Alliot to the lead number 9 car and brought in Kenny Acheson to drive the second car – the Ulsterman had driven for the team in 1983 without much success, but then the 1983 car wasn’t exactly conducive to doing any better in. Back too after a short absence was Piercarlo Ghinzani, having lost his Osella seat to Huub Rothengatter but now occupying a second Toleman as the team were full of confidence from their pole position in Germany.
Acheson had spent seven races in the RAM March car in 1983, only managing to qualify on his last attempt in South Africa. Without a drive for 1984, he had returned to Formula 2, racing in the Japanese domestic series. While his previous stint with RAM hadn’t been wildly successful, it was hardly his fault and when the team needed a short-notice replacement for Winkelhock, they turned to Acheson as a known quantity who could slot right into the traumatised team.
With the Austrian circuit requiring a balance between pure power and handling, it could have been built specifically for the McLarens, and Prost took his first pole of the season, with local boy Lauda in third, his best so far this year. Splitting the two was Mansell, with his team-mate Rosberg fourth, Piquet fifth and Fabi in sixth, proving Germany wasn’t just a freak result. In the other Toleman, Ghinzani had had limited running time and could only manage 19th, while fellow returnee Acheson was 23rd. The Lotus team had had a bad practice, with de Angelis 7th and Senna down in 14th after a series of engine problems. With the field now at 27, one driver would miss the cut and to no-one’s surprise it was the sole non-turbo runner, Martin Brundle. A petition got up by Ken Tyrrell to allow him to race anyway was not signed by Ron Dennis, so the Englishman would sit out the race.
The rain that had washed out the end of Saturday’s session was gone again on Sunday morning and the track was dry by the time the cars rolled out for the race. The narrow start/finish straight means that any incident at the start can cause a major incident, and this was the case again in 1985 as Teo Fabi stalled his Toleman, and Elio de Angelis couldn’t find first gear. Alboreto (starting back in 9th) and Berger were both damaged as everyone tried to squeeze through and the organisers were forced to red-flag the race and try again. De Angelis, Alboreto and Berger all started in their spare cars, as did Prost who had found a gremlin in his. Ghinzani, however, had over-revved his engine and broken it, and there was no spare Toleman so he would miss out. At the second start, it was Mansell’s turn to get away badly, though he did at least get away, and Rosberg and Lauda both elbowed past. Rosberg had got a great start to leap from fourth to second and was challenging Prost for the lead while both drew away from Lauda in third. The Austrian, meanwhile, was also drawing away from Piquet in fourth, with de Angelis also having got ahead of Mansell.
Rosberg, however, only challenged for four laps until the Williams’ oil pressure dropped. Piquet was promoted to third, but was clearly holding up a train of cars behind him, which allowed Teo Fabi to get back ahead of Tambay’s Renault before the latter came in with a puncture anyway. On lap 13, Andrea de Cesaris had a spectacular off in his Ligier, putting a wheel on the grass and sliding sideways on the wet grass until his rear wheel dug into a hole and flipped the car over, rolling four times before coming to rest right side up and allowing the Italian to walk away, shaken but unhurt. While this was going on, Niki Lauda had the hammer down; the Austrian was determined to win his home race even if it did mean racing his team-mate and title challenger Prost. Senna and Mansell were meanwhile both charging back from bad starts, the former getting past Fabi and into sixth. Mansell’s challenge ended with a sick Honda on lap 25, and a lap later Piquet toured in with a broken exhaust, with Fabi’s bad luck continuing with electrical problems putting him out on lap 31.
Lauda had squeezed Prost’s lead down to a second when the Frenchman came in for new tyres, believing his current set were going off. A typically slick McLaren stop got him out in second, ahead of Ayrton Senna who was now third, with de Angelis, Alboreto and Johansson following, creating a Noah’s Ark two-by-two formation on the track. Prost began taking big chunks out of Lauda’s lead and fans began to look forward to the sort of Prost v Lauda on track battle they had seen little of so far. Once again though, and to the dismay of the spectators, it was not to be as Lauda pulled off with a broken Turbo shaft, leaving Prost way out ahead of Senna, whose Lotus was troubled with a vibration and not able to catch up. Behind him, de Angelis had lost place to both Ferraris and Johansson looked to be held up by Alboreto, who was extravagantly blocking his team-mate’s attempts to get past – there would be words in the Ferrari garage after the race, one felt.
Prost cruised to his fourth win of the year ahead of Senna (scoring his first points since his win in Portugal) and Alboreto, and drew level on points with the Italian in the championship, and in the de facto lead with four wins to Alboreto’s two. Johansson came fourth, de Angelis recorded yet another fifth place (his fourth of the year) with Marc Surer rescuing a point for Brabham in sixth place, having held off the challenge of Stefan Bellof, who had run his Tyrrell out of fuel chasing the elusive position. Boutsen, Rothengatter and Tambay were the otherfinishers – Tambay had actually retired from seventh six laps before the end but had done enough to earn classification.
|3||Elio de Angelis||28|
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||3|