6 October 1985
The European Grand Prix had originally been planned for a street circuit in Rome, but when plans fell through, the owners of Brands Hatch gladly stepped into the breach once more to host the race. Discussion at Brands was on two major subjects – the championship, with Prost needing only to score three more points than Alboreto to secure the title; and the upcoming South African Grand Prix. Apartheid was becoming a political cause celèbre and the socialist government in France had already put pressure on the Renault and Ligier teams to withdraw from the event, which they had. Other teams were finding that their sponsors were similarly reluctant to be associated with the regime. Several drivers were also said to be contemplating boycotting the event themselves, even if their teams went.
However this played out, the focus was on the racing at hand, and the field was changed again from Belgium: Tyrrell returned to being a two-car team, bringing in F3000 driver Ivan Capelli, Beatrice-Lola were back (and announced Patrick Tambay as their second driver for 1986), and John Watson would drive the second McLaren while Niki Lauda’s wrist healed. RAM remained a one-car team for financial reasons, and had been told that they would be losing their Skoal Bandit sponsorship. The team announced that after Brands they would skip the two flyaway races to regroup for 1986.
The young Italian Capelli had begun racing karts in 1978, before going straight into Formula 3 the following year in a privately-entered March. Another year on, and Capelli joined the Coloni team and swept the Italian F3 series with nine wins, which took him up into European F3, still with Enzo Coloni and his squad. He won that series two, despite some controversy over the legality of the team’s cars. In 1985, Capelli moved into the new Formula 3000 series, moving to Genoa Racing, who were another user of March chassis. After winning a race in his inaugural season at this level, Capelli was called up by Ken Tyrrell to replace Stefan Bellof at the last few races of the year.
Despite the race taking place in Britain in October, the weather was fair for qualifying and Senna took his sixth career pole with Piquet alongside. Pure power put Mansell and Rosberg on the second row with Philippe Streiff a fantastic fifth place in the Ligier for only his fourth Grand Prix, despite a spectacular triple spin on Friday. Prost was 6th, with the Ferraris back in 13th (Johansson) and 15th (Alboreto) after a dreadful practice dogged by handling issues. Alboreto conceded the championship was Prosts’s after Friday practice and looked dejected for much of the weekend. At the blunt end, Rothengatter’s Osella was the non-qualifier, with Martini as usual bringing up the rear of the grid, just behind Danner’s Zakspeed. A rusty Watson was on 21st, with new boy Capelli 24th having never driven at Brands before.
It looked for a moment as if the start would be aborted when Piquet got a bit skew-whiff into his grid slot after the parade lap, but it was decided it was not too bad and the race was begun. Prost also got away badly, skewing off at an angle, going onto the grass and losing position, while Mansell by contrast got a flyer and was alongside Senna into the first corner. The pair were joined by Rosberg also trying to nose into position and Mansell ran wide to avoid his team-mate and lost out to Rosberg and Piquet, slotting back in in front of his former team-mate de Angelis. Warwick, Streiff, Surer and Laffite were next, with Prost having lost even more places, most significantly to the Ferraris of Johansson and Alboreto.
The red cars seemed to be handling much better in the race and the pair moved up through the field, passing the Ligiers, with a rallying Prost now in pursuit and up to 9th. The leaders – Senna, Rosberg and Piquet – were rapidly moving away from the rest, with Mansell also easing away from de Angelis to keep up the pursuit. On lap 7, Rosberg tried to get inside Senna at the Graham Hill corner, and succeeded in getting his nose ahead, but span on the exit and was rear-ended by Piquet while recovering. The Brabham’s nose was smashed and Piquet was out, but Rosberg managed to limp round to the pits for a new rear wing and new tyres (having punctured his during his excursion onto the grass).
This left Senna leading with Mansell some distance behind now in second place. de Angelis even further back in third, chased by Johansson, Surer, Alboreto and Prost. As Senna came back round, he came across Rosberg, rejoining after his pitstop, and was forced to slow, which allowed Mansell to catch up. The Englishman got his Williams past Senna’s Lotus at Graham Hill, but he hadn’t noticed the yellow flags being waved as the marshals were still removing Piquet’s Brabham. Rosberg, still ahead of the pair, moved over to let Mansell through, then moved over brutally on Senna, allowing his team-mate to pull out a lead.
Further back, Prost had got ahead of Alboreto and was now 6th and challenging Marc Surer’s Brabham for 5th, while Alboreto was still back in 8th and came in for tyres in the hopes that they would revive his race. He rejoined further down the order but before he could get moving back up the field his turbocharger expired in a gout of flames. Alboreto seemed at first not to have noticed, but it soon became obvious that the furious Italian was determined to drive his burning Ferrari back to the pits, steering while standing up in the cockpit as the flames spread, before parking the car at his garage and stalking away, the championship lost.
Prost was the beneficiary and was pressing Johansson in the other Ferrari, who had lost place to a charging Surer, but when the news of Alboreto’s retirement filtered through, he backed off and indeed lost his place to a lively Jacques Laffite, who disposed of Johansson and set off after Surer. The Swiss driver in the Brabham was having a fantastic day, now swarming all over the back of de Angelis’ Lotus before moving up into third, chased by Laffite who was also running well and set the fastest lap – it was some time since a Ligier had last done so! Next up in Surer’s sights was Senna, who found he couldn’t compete with the on-song Brabham and Ligier cars, and they soon both moved past him into second and third places. Mansell was some 14 seconds ahead but with the rate the two Pirelli runners had carved through the field there was whisper of a shock result – but Nigel simply adapted his pace and maintained his lead. Laffite soon began to fade as his tyres went off, and lost third to Senna before pitting for new tyres and putting Johansson back up to fourth.
Prost was driving cautiously to finish, but he found himself with a clear track and put the hammer down, setting a series of fastest laps as he caught de Angelis in 5th and managed to get past the Lotus without too much risk when his team-mate Watson – struggling at the back – balked the Italian as he was being lapped. 5th became 4th when Johansson peeled into the pits to retire with electrical gremlins, and Prost would have the championship if he finished where he was. Coming across Riccardo Patrese, he elected not to try and lap the erratic Italian and simply eased off and settled in to clock off the laps.
All of this promoted Rosberg to 6th, having made a great comeback from his accident and benefitted from a blown Renault that had ended Laffite’s fine drive. Ten laps before the end, Marc Surer’s drive also ended in disappointment and flames as his turbo followed Alboreto’s example and brewed up spectacularly. This promoted Prost to third, but not for long: a charging Rosberg took the place and Prost decided not to fight him for the place and risk the points finish, simply moving over and letting the Williams through.
The partisan crowd only had eyes for Nigel Mansell, though, as he came through to take his first win at the 72nd time of asking after four barren years with Lotus. Ayrton Senna was happy with second place, though not a fan of Rosberg’s blocking tactics, while the Finn could be satisfied with a brilliant comeback drive. Alain Prost, though, was possibly a rival for Mansell as Happiest Man At The Track – after three near-misses, he had finally clinched his first World Drivers’ Championship, the first for a French driver. Elio de Angelis took yet another fifth place, with Thierry Boutsen taking the final point in his Arrows after Philippe Streiff’s tyres went off badly in the closing laps and he lost places to Boutsen, Watson and Patrese.
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