8 September 1985
Just weeks after the death of Manfred Winkelhock in a touring car race, the F1 community was shocked again at the news that Stefan Bellof had also died in similar circumstances, driving a Porsche 956 at the Spa 1000km the weekend between races. To the already tragic death of a pleasant, popular young man, there was the sense that Bellof had been a potential star of the future – Ken Tyrrell reckoned he was the best natural talent he’d seen since Jackie Stewart – and that his promise had been cut short. Tyrrell elected to enter only Brundle in the race rather than replacing Bellof so quickly.
But the Silly Season was in full swing, with 1986 driver and engine deals rumoured and confirmed – Piquet to Williams was a done deal and the Ferrari drivers were under immense pressure to reclaim the momentum from the McLaren team. More immediately, Jonathan Palmer had also been injured in the fateful Spa 1000km and with no spare driver, Zakspeed withdrew from the event anyway. Ligier, meanwhile, replaced the sacked de Cesaris with Formula 3000 driver Phillippe Streiff. Between all the news and speculation, the Beatrice-Lola team made their low-key debut, with Alan Jones driving a Hart-powered car for the last few races of the season preparatory to a full campaign with Fort turbos in 1986.
Streiff had driven for the AGS team in Formula 2 throughout 1984, while assisting the Renault team with development, and had been rewarded with a non-scoring third entry at the last race of the year in Estoril with La Regie. However, it was only ever intended as a one-off and he returned to the AGS team as they made the step up to Formula 3000 in 1985. Despite mediocre results in a difficult first season at the highest level, Streiff caught the eye of the French motoring press and of Guy Ligier who was looking for a French (or at least Francophone) driver to replace de Cesaris.
Practice was sunny throughout for a change, and for a while it looked as if Williams would be the class of the field, until Senna – driving his first race at Monza after having been suspended by the Toleman team for the 1984 race – put in a scintillating lap to take pole, dropping Rosberg and Mansell to 2nd and 3rd respectively. Piquet’s Brabham was just behind his new team, and the fastest car on the track at the speed trap. Title challengers Prost and Alboreto were 5th and 7th, split by de Angelis in the second Lotus, with Lauda back in 16th after his Zandvoort win. Phillippe Streiff put his Ligier on the grid a creditable 19th, while Jones had two sessions dogged with engine problems and could only manage 25th. WIth just 26 entrants alll would start, and Pierluigi Martini had marked his home race by outqualifying former champion Jones and both RAMs to start 24th.
As usual, when the lights went out, it was a mad dash down to the first corner, and it was Rosberg that just about made it through first, Senna putting wheels on the grass but doing just enough to keep Mansell back in third with Prost up ahead of Piquet behind him. Mansell made his way past the Lotus by the second chicane and the two Williams cars began to pull away from the chasing pack. Senna, possibly affected by dirty tyres, was passed by Prost on the third lap, and de Angelis followed through soon after. A lap later, Mansell came in with a misfire – the Williams team quickly changed out the boost control unit and sent him on his way. Alboreto was thus promoted to 5th, but he had Piquet behind him and, the BMW engine on song, the Brazilian breezed past him on the main straight. Behind them, Lauda was on the move; up to 7th already, he passed Tambay for 6th on lap 5 and began attacking Alboreto soon after.
Lauda got past Alboreto on lap 10 to complete an action-packed first ten laps: aside from all the jockeying for position, there had been several retirements already. Ghinzani stalled his Toleman at the start, Martini’s Minardi expired on lap 1 with a fuel pump problem, and Acheson (clutch), Cheever (engine), Jones (distributor) and Warwick (transmission) had all joined him by lap 10. Two laps later, Nelson Piquet peeled in for a new set of tyres as his original set didn’t seem to be working for him, so Lauda was now attacking Senna. Rosberg was still some distance ahead, driving hard, and Mansell was putting up similar lap times down in 16th. Lauda had meanwhile got past Senna and set about de Angelis in third place, but the Austrian’s impressive charge was brought to an end when he scraped his nose on a high kerb and had to come in for a new nosecone. The team at least changed his tyres at the same time so he didn’t lose as much time as he could have, but he dropped back down the order and had it all to do again.
At this point, the scheduled tyre stops began – Rosberg came in from the lead, promoting Prost to the lead and rejoining in second. Senna was chasing, but the Brazilian’s hard Goodyears were hampering him from putting the hammer down as much as he wanted and he began to drift back into the clutches of Piquet, whose new rubber was doing better. Lauda’s engine expired a few laps after his stop, putting paid to any talk of a great comeback win, and Rosberg set about reeling in the 17 second gap to Prost, retaking the lead on lap 40 – but just 6 laps later the Honda curse struck again as a water leak sent him back into the pits to retire. Prost then had a massive lead over Piquet, who had taken third off Senna and the top three stayed that way until the end. Marc Surer had a great race with Brabham, finishing fourth and with a couple more laps would probably have taken third from the unhappy Lotus driver. Alboreto had been fifth five laps from the end when his engine blew, and his team-mate Johansson took the two points instead, despite running out of fuel on the last lap and hitching a lift back to the pits with the sixth-placed de Angelis. who had been cruising for the last part of the race with fuel consumption issues. In fact, as it turned out, the problem was with the indicator and he finished with twenty litres still on board, to his displeasure.
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