15 September 1985
The F1 circus arrived at the Spa circuit in bittersweet mood. The circuit’s previous event in 1983 (won by Alain Prost) had been popular and the teams, fans and broadcasters were all glad to be back – but no-one could quite shake the remembrance that it was here that Stefan Bellof had been killed just a few weeks earlier, and Jonathan Palmer was injured and still in hospital.
With this being the re-running of the aborted race in June, the original entry list was honoured – so RAM were forced to drop back to one car (for Philippe Alliot), while Toleman, who had been entering two cars all along, even when they only had one driver, could enter both Ghinzani and Fabi. Carl Haas’ Beatrice-Lola team were absent, having not been in the initial race, but Zakspeed were at least back, with the car now driven by the leading F3000 driver, Christian Danner.
Son of an eminent road-safety expert, Christian Danner somewhat ironically got bitten by the racing bug in his teens and by 19 he was racing in turbocharged Renault 5s, where in 1980 he was spotted by Manfred Cassani for his new BMW-backed team in German Group 4 racing. Before long, he made the step up to Formula 2 with the March works team, as well as racing BMW touring cars. Danner’s single-seater career continued its upward trajectory, with Christian becoming a front-runner in F2 by the end of 1983, but in 1984 when BMW withdrew from F2, it looked bleak. However, Danner managed to raise enough sponsorship to move to the Bob Sparshott Racing team, who took him into the new Formula 3000 championship in 1985. By the time of the Belgian Grand Prix, Danner lay second to Mike Thackwell in the series with only one race to go – but he couldn’t resist the lure of Zakspeed and Formula One…
Otherwise it was business as usual, with Alain Prost looking to repeat his 1983 win and extend his championship lead, with Michele Alboreto and his Ferrari team trying to put a stop to their rough spell and Senna, Piquet and Rosberg all looking good to pick up the win if either of the championship contenders put a wheel wrong.
The changeable Ardennes weather saw frequent showers throughout Friday and Saturday’s sessions, but the track stayed dry when it mattered and so the teams could concentrate on the tricky balance of power and control required by this historic circuit. On Friday morning, however, Niki Lauda had a bad spin into a barrier and jarred his wrist badly. Unable to drive, he withdrew. As luck would have it, John Watson was in the paddock and agreed to drive – but Ron Dennis’ petition to allow him to do so fell on deaf ears and only one McLaren would run for the rest of the weekend.
The sole McLaren would start the race on pole, with Senna alongside in the black and gold Lotus. Behind them was Piquet, with Alboreto fourth, Johansson fifth and Boutsen sixth in the Arrows, running well on home tarmac. The Ferraris had done much testing at Monza between races and were looking better, while the Williams cars of Mansell (7th) and Rosberg (10th) looked less impressive than of late. With just 24 entrants, everyone would qualify and at the back it was business as usual with Pierluigi Martini’s Minardi bringing up the rear, just behind Huub Rothengatter’s Osella, with Christian Danner making his Grand Prix debut from 22nd.
Sunday morning’s warm-up was wet, and it rained right through until shortly before the start of the race, at which point the track was wet even after it had stopped raining, so the grid lined up on wet tyres. As the lights went green, it was Ayrton Senna who got the best start, leaping into the lead while Prost dropped behind Piquet, who promptly spun as they all filtered round La Source. Fortunately, no-one speared the Brabham, though Surer and Rosberg had to take to the run-off area. Prost thus regained second, with Alboreto, a fast-starting Mansell, Johansson, Boutsen, Berger and de Angelis chasing. By the end of the first lap, Mansell had got past Alboreto and a dry line was starting to emerge already – a tactical battle would now ensue as everyone tried to judge the best time to come in for slick tyres. Piquet and Rosberg were first, the Brazilian keen to shed Pirelli’s dreadful wet tyres. A charging Mansell took second from Prost, who didn’t put up much of a fight, and set off in pursuit of Senna, already with quite a lead. Alboreto had already dropped to tenth and on lap 4 his clutch broke and he was out. Over the next few laps, cars streamed into the pits for new tyres. Johansson never made it, his own transmission going after 7 laps, while Ghinzani put his Toleman hard into the barriers after getting a bit enthusiastic on the damp track on fresh slicks.
Senna, Mansell and Prost all came in together and the Williams crew got their man out first, but the Lotus boys were smarter – putting scrubbed tyres on Senna’s car meant he got up to temperature quicker and re-took the lead on the run down to Eau Rouge. Mansell then compounded things by having a semi-spin at La Source on the next lap, He stayed in second, but Senna pulled out more of a lead. Prost was by now in “cruise and collect” mode, happy not to push the car too hard and ensure a finish in the points with Alboreto out, so he soon lost third to a charging Rosberg, and was being threatened by a strong drive from Boutsen, who in turn had the Renaults of Tambay and Warwick chasing him.
Around half-distance, the rain came back and there was activity in the pits as wet tyres were readied, but the shower passed as quickly as it came, and the track stayed dry. Senna was by now uncatchable, while the two Williams twins were having a terrific scrap over second until Rosberg’s brakes started to fade and he backed off, coming in to the pit to fix the problem which allowed Prost back into third. Mansell nearly ruined his own day with a slide, putting a wheel on the dirt but keeping the car pointing in the right direction, and that was where they ended: Ayrton Senna took his second career win in dominant style, while Mansell was happy with a career-best-equalling second place, and Prost with four points for third. Rosberg, Piquet and Warwick took the minor points, with Thierry Boutsen cruelly robbed of home points by a gearbox failure three laps before the end.
Prost thus led Alboreto by 16 points with just three races to go …
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