With 8 of the 16 races gone, it’s time to look at how the teams are faring.
Alain Prost’s title defence has started well, with two wins among his six podium visits out of eight starts so far, and the team’s traditional strategy of not worrying too much about qualifying in order to concentrate on race setup seems to be working for him. Rosberg, on the other hand, has disappointed so far, despite a fighting second place at his favourite Monaco track. If the car has been designed around Prost’s precise style, then perhaps Rosberg’s muscular antics are just a bad fit. A shame if so, but perhaps the Finn can turn it round as the season progresses and he adapts.
The season seemed to start so well, with 5th and 7th places for Brundle and Streiff in Brazil, but things have gone from bad to worse since then, with the new 015 chassis from Monaco onwards proving no better. Brundle’s had most of the bad luck reliability-wise, with Streiff only failing to finish thanks to that lively fire at his home race, but it’s noticeable that the team are far behind the Lotus and Ligier teams running the same engine; a legacy of Ken Tyrrell’s historically fraught relationship with the French firm?
The FW11 chassis turned heads by winning the last three races of the 1985 season and has continued its good form into 1986. Piquet won on his debut for the team at his home circuit, but since then he’s looked distinctly second best to Nigel Mansell, whose three wins so far (which could easily have been four with a modicum of luck in Spain) are the most of any driver. Frank Williams, meanwhile, continues to recover after his road accident and, though he will remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he has lost none of his sharpness and seems keen to return to the paddock.
Brabham’s first season post-Piquet has been little short of disastrous. The revolutionary low-profile car has been both unreliable and slow, its BMW straight-4 engine underpowered by comparison to the V6 units in most cars and also suffering teething problems with its unusual mounting. To twist the knife further, the fatal accident involving popular Italian driver Elio de Angelis has knocked a lot of the fight out of the team, with rumours circulating of a developing spat between owner Bernie Ecclestone and designer Gordon Murray. Tough times ahead for Brabham.
The Lotus 98T may not look as unusual as the Skateboard Brabham, but it’s revolutionary under the skin, with fuel-consumption computers, water injection systems, ride-height adjustment and other gizmos that have seen other teams muttering about legality – but no challenges yet. Senna is the undoubted star, two wins and three more podium visits putting him on top of the table after Detroit, slipping back to third after his ignominious exit in France. Johnny Dumfries is giving it a gallant go, but has only finished twice and neither time in the points – he shows flashes of speed but is struggling in a team where he is essentially an afterthought.
The well-organised West German team have found Grand Prix racing perhaps tougher than they expected, and their cars mostly only appear on screen while being lapped or retiring. However, Palmer’s 8th place in Detroit is encouraging and the team are well financed, have no engine-supply worries since they construct their own and have a capable development driver so they will be looking to make progress as the season progresses. With a flat-4 turbo engine looking increasingly like a bad choice, perhaps they will be an early convert to the new 3.5l formula in 1987?
Racing the first few meetings of the season with last year’s car and underpowered Hart engines, the team were looking forward to the much-trumpeted Ford V6 Turbo engine in the new THL2 chassis. However, while reports indicate that the car handles beautifully, the engine seems somewhat asthmatic in comparison to the Renaults, Hondas, TAGs and even BMWs, and Cosworth are reportedly reluctant to get into the business of building special qualifying engines like some of the bigger teams. Former champion Jones and ex-Ferrari winner Tambay are no slouches, and this must be demoralising for both of them.
A pretty anonymous season so far for the little British team, whose A8 chassis is a holdover from 1985 while the team readies the troublesome A9 for use in the latter half of the season. The cars usually finish in the top ten when they finish, but the customer BMW engines are, despite Heini Mader’s best efforts, down on power from the works units in the Brabham and Benetton cars, and the accident to Marc Surer and his subsequent replacement with the inexperienced Christian Danner seems to have knocked the wind out of the team’s sails somewhat.
The team’s debut season has been one of promise rather than results so far – Berger and Fabi have both scored points, and the Austrian even scored the team’s first podium finish in San Marino, but that seems some time ago now and the cars have attracted more comment for their eye-catching colours than their race performance. The B186 chassis seems better on raw power circuits so maybe it will do better in the back straight, reliability allowing of course.
Things go from bad to worse for the plucky Italian team – they have yet to finish a race in 1986 and usually start from the back row. The problems are too numerous to list, but essentially come back to money; they don’t have any. The Alfa Romeo V8 engine is bulky and yet underpowered, the chassis is another development of the old Alfa car from 1983, while the affable but unambitious Piercarlo Ghinzani and the rookie Allen Berg aren’t the strongest driver lineup. Apart from a freak result due to attrition, it’s difficult to see where any progress will be made.
Like compatriots Osella, Minardi have really struggled this year and have yet to see the chequered flag.. Expanding to two cars has doubled their chances of finishing, but seems also to have stretched their already-meagre resources. De Cesaris is undoubtedly a decent driver, brings lots of Marlboro money and has tamed some of his wilder instincts, but he’s no patient test driver either, which is what the team needs right now. Nannini is hard to evaluate given the limitations of his machinery, but he hasn’t been embarrassed by his team-mate, which is a good sign.
They’re not quite at 1980-81 levels yet, but this is definitely something of a comeback for the team, which has taken on something of the mantle of French national hopes after the departure of the Renault works team. A strong driver lineup in Arnoux and Laffite, a good Renault engine and a neat chassis has given the veteran Laffite two podium places while Arnoux has often looked the better driver but had bad luck. If the team can continue its good work, they could be dark horses for a win this year.
As Ligier have a revival, so Ferrari slump – the F1/86 is reputed to have the most powerful engine on the grid, but clearly something isn’t working in the aerodynamics because it’s slow. And something isn’t working under the hood, because it’s unreliable as well. Alboreto and Johansson are undoubtedly talented, and proved such last year, so the team have to be massively disappointed with their record, Johansson’s podium in Belgium notwithstanding. The team have posted 8 retirements from 16 entries and only scored on four occasions – not figures that will make pleasant reading at Maranello. The team aren’t usually one to suffer failure patiently though, so expect developments of some kind.