3 November 1985
The season concluded with a new circuit and a new venue – despite the success of Australian and New Zealand drivers such as Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Alan Jones, the Formula One circus had never before made the long journey down under. Now, with airfreight costs dropping, it seemed a good time to visit. Street circuits had been popular options both for race organisers (ready-made infrastructure, no need to lay completely new tarmac) and FISA (dramatic, iconic backgrounds look good on TV, ready-made audience in host city), and a new one had been laid out in the city of Adelaide. Drivers and teams tended to be less keen on the idea of street circuits, with their uneven surfaces, hard concrete walls and cramped pit-lanes. At least the Constructors’ Championship was still to be decided, even if Prost had settled the Drivers title two races ago, so it wouldn’t be a complete dead rubber, though Ferrari’s dismal late season form meant McLaren were widely expected to take the title.
Renault returned for what would be their last race, as did Ligier after the teams had boycotted South Africa, and Phillippe Streiff went back to his primary employer, with Ivan Capelli again taking driving duties in the number 4 Tyrrell. Niki Lauda was also driving his last race – at least officially, though again rumours maintained he was still negotiating a massive deal with Brabham to replace Nelson Piquet. The team had already announced Elio de Angelis would be joining them from Lotus, so the Italian was also in his last race for the Lotus team that had been his home for six years.
With a new circuit to learn, extra practice times were allotted on Thursday and drivers professed themselves pleasantly surprised with the track which turned out to be a decently fast track with a good surface and the laid-back enthusiasm of the locals and marshals added to an end-of-term party atmosphere which everyone found a tonic.
With track knowledge increasing over the weekend, it was Saturday’s session that decided pole position – it was Ayrton Senna’s by 0.7s ahead of the Williams boys of Mansell and Rosberg, then Prost, Alboreto and Surer. Gerhard Berger was an excellent 7th in the Arrows. The outgoing Renault team were 8th (Tambay) and 12th (Warwick). Niki Lauda was back in 14th and local hero Alan Jones 19th.
Race day was hot and sunny again, and in a party atmosphere it was Nigel Mansell again who got the best start and went into the first corner in the lead, with Senna second and Rosberg, Alboreto, Prost, Surer and Tambay following. Alan Jones stalled his Lola on the grid and needed a push, but otherwise everyone got away cleanly. Senna wasn’t going to be left behind by Mansell, though, and challenged strongly throughout the first lap, until the two touched – Mansell was forced to run wide and dropped back to 7th, while Senna lost the lead to Rosberg. Mansell’s race was over, though, as he crawled back round to the pits with broken suspension.
Rosberg and Senna began then to pull out a bit and the field started to spread out into a series of one-on-one scraps; Rosberg-Senna; Alboreto-Prost; Berger-Surer and then the rest. After a dozen laps or so, some of the leading cars began pitting for tyres, though the top four stayed out long enough to see Elio de Angelis’ Lotus career come to a disappointing end as he was disqualified for making up places on the parade lap after stalling at the start. Why it had taken 17 laps to black-flag him for it was a good question. By this time, Nelson Piquet had also ended his lengthy Brabham career with an electrical failure that seemed to summarise his frustrating 1985 season.
This put Lauda up into 6th and a flying Jones up to 7th – the local veteran had been enjoying home support and really got stuck in for the first time to pull back through the ranks. His race ended with an electrical failure on lap 21, but it looked positive for the future. Alain Prost’s engine blew a few laps later, promoting Marc Surer to third, and Lauda to fourth, with Alboreto, Streiff and Boutsen the rest of the points places. At the front, Rosberg had pulled out a lead of 9 seconds over Senna, and the Brazilian looked unusually sloppy in pursuit, making an unforced error over the kerbs at Malthouse, and had waste paper in his radiator to boot, but with Rosberg driving cautiously to conserve his tyres, he soon caught up again.
By the end of lap 42, Senna was right on Rosberg’s gearbox – too close, as it turned out: the Finn slowed to enter the pits for a tyre stop and Senna rammed into the back of him and took off half his front wing. Rosberg was undamaged – though his stop took a little longer while the pit crew checked it out – but Senna was forced to coax his understeering Lotus back round to the pits for a new nose, still in the lead. When he got round, he got so out of shape on the last corner that he missed the pitlane entrance entirely, and had to do another skittish lap before finally getting a new nose, new tyres, and a clean radiator. The Lotus crew did well to achieve all that in 26s, getting Senna out in third, behind Rosberg and Lauda
In all the excitement, Marc Surer had had more bad luck, third place disappearing in another cloud of engine smoke, and Senna now got the bit between his teeth and chased down Lauda, passing him on the main straight on lap 50, and set off after Rosberg, some 30 seconds ahead. Rosberg pitted for new tyres, but disaster struck when a stuck wheelnut cost valuable time and he rejoined 3rd. Now it was Lauda’s turn to get the hammer down, keen to win his farewell race – he had been husbanding his tyres but now fought back, re-passing Senna into the lead on lap 55. Two laps later, his brakes failed and he slid into the wall – not hard enough to hurt, but enough to break his suspension and put him out and Senna back into the lead, with Rosberg gaining on him.
The Finn chased Senna down again, but before he could pass him for the lead, the Lotus peeled off into the pits on lap 62 with a broken Renault engine. Alboreto was also out with a broken gearshift – his 1985 season in a nutshell – so Rosberg now led by a country mile from the two Ligiers of Laffite and Streiff; so much so that he stopped for new tyres to ensure he didn’t need to worry about them before the end, with no real danger of losing the place.
Philippe Streiff, running third in only his fourth Grand Prix, looked like he was angling after second, despite the best efforts of Laffite to communicate the concept of “stay back and let’s just finish” to his young team-mate. Still, it kept things interesting as the race wound down, especially when Streiff tried to lunge past on the penultimate lap and smacked his front wheel on his team-mate’s car, deranging his front suspension. Both managed to finish nonetheless, Laffite’s anger at the young man’s recklessness tempered by the fact that it all turned out well and Ligier got ten points and two men on the podium. In fourth place was an equally surprised Ivan Capelli, taking the Tyrrell team’s first Renault-powered points and their first points since Bellof’s fourth place in Detroit. Johansson took fifth place after a trying weekend, while Berger took sixth after an extraordinary couple of laps – in fifth five laps from the end, he had gone into a barrier trying to fend off Johansson, restarted and kept it running to score another point. Behind him, miraculously still running, were Huub Rothengatter’s Osella and Pierluigi Martini’s Minardi, both still going and both could have even scored if Streiff and Berger had been less fortunate.
And so the 1985 season came to an end with Prost and McLaren victorious, Williams on an upward trajectory, Ferrari and Brabham looking despondent and Lotus still looking for the whole package. Renault closed the garage door on their failed F1 project and Alfa Romeo followed suit a few days after the race. Rosberg, Piquet, de Angelis and Lauda were among then top drivers who had driven their last race for their current teams, Lauda possibly for good, depending on how negotiations with Brabham went. Renault and Alfa were gone but in their place for 1986 would be Zakspeed and Lola, both with positives to look forward to.
All that would be decided in the off-season, but for now the drivers and teams could take a break in the Australian sun, throw another shrimp on the barbie and reflect on an exciting season, far from the McLaren benefit most were expecting.
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