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sport / / Goodwood's - The history of F1: the 1980s

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Goodwood's - The history of F1: the 1980s


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 by: a425couple - Thu, 27 Apr 2023 22:34 UTC

View this at the citation to see the pictures:

Damien Smith
The history of F1: the 1980s
“I will never drive a McLaren again.” Imagine had Alain Prost stuck to
those words. After a maiden Formula 1 season punctuated by one too many
accidents caused by car failures, the little Frenchman with the massive
talent was done with McLaren – or so he thought.

Instead, destiny had other, unexpected plans for the best, most complete
F1 driver of the decade (well, for most of it). Prost would return in
Marlboro’s Dayglo and white – but only after its boss Teddy Mayer had
made way for a single-minded, deeply ambitious visionary, who in harness
with an equally focused and hard-edged designer, would raise the F1 game
during the 1980s. Prost, Ron Dennis, John Barnard and TAG-badged Porsche
turbo engines was the axis of a dream team for the decade of Cold War

But McLaren would evolve again into something even greater after Barnard
left for Ferrari, when Honda’s V6 replaced TAG, and a young, mercurial
Brazilian was teamed with (and ultimately against) Prost. Ayrton Senna
and his colossal rivalry with the only man he truly respected and feared
would really define this decade – for better and for worse.

Today, F1 in the 1980s is considered a halcyon time, recalled for
brutal, untamed horsepower, a new breed of swashbuckling heroes and an
increasing commercialisation of a global sport moving closer to the
mainstream. But it’s on this final point that F1 was almost brought to
its knees, by a drawn out (and terminally boring) civil war between
governing body FISA, led by pompous, blazered president Jean-Marie
Balestre, and the British-based FOCA teams, led by sharp-as-a-tack
Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone. Guess who won?

Through 1980 and ’81, a fundamental battle played out over who would
control grand prix racing. Yes, FISA (the sporting arm of the FIA),
would retain control of the technical regulations, but crucially it was
Ecclestone who grabbed what really counted: the commercial power that
would make not only himself but also his rival team owners fabulously
wealthy in the era of rampant capitalism. The seed was sown in the
1970s, but it was during the ’80s that F1 as we know it today really
took root.


On track, the emerging Williams team and Brabham held power at first,
propelled by the now-venerable Cosworth DFV and gripped by monumental
ground-effects suction. Alan Jones edged Nelson Piquet in ’80, the
Brazilian then claiming the first of his three titles the following
season, before FISA, in an act conceived to undermine and weaken the
FOCA DFV teams, banned ground effects at the end of ’82 on the grounds
of safety.


It certainly had been a torrid time. Gilles Villeneuve tripped over
Jochen Mass’s March in qualifying at Zolder and died in a horrible crash
(if only he’d survived and raced on, to mix it with Prost and Senna),
and Riccardo Paletti lost his life in Canada when his Osella slammed
into Didier Pironi’s stalled Ferrari at the start. Then Pironi suffered
career-ending leg injuries when he was launched over Prost’s Renault in
the rain at Hockenheim. To cap the black mood, F1 lost one of its
greatest agitators when Lotus founder Colin Chapman succumbed to a heart
attack in December. Through it all, a record 11 drivers won races as
Keke Rosberg – only once a winner that season – edged an unlikely title
for Williams, the last for a DFV.


As the teams scrabbled to prepare new, non-ground-effect, flat-bottomed
machines for 1983, manufacturer-backed turbo power was now essential if
the FOCA teams wanted to maintain their competitive edge. Ecclestone had
already moved fast to partner up with BMW, and Gordon Murray’s stunning
delta-shaped BT52 would carry Piquet to another title; Williams plugged
away with Cosworth until joining forces with far from proven Honda for
’84; but it was Dennis and Barnard who would really grab the initiative.


McLaren’s bounce-back had begun in ’81, once Dennis (with Marlboro’s
help) had prised Mayer’s grip from the team. Barnard’s landmark
carbon-fibre-monocoque MP4/1 pointed the way on future chassis design,
John Watson scoring a memorable home victory at Silverstone. Then Dennis
scored a coup by luring Niki Lauda out of retirement for ’82, the
Austrian discovering to his surprise that his thirst for F1 had yet to
be fully quenched. He won at Long Beach, just his third race back.

But the key that unlocked the rest of the decade was the moment Dennis
persuaded Porsche to supply a turbo engine, paid for and badged by TAG,
owned by Ron’s friend Mansour Ojjeh. Porsche was fully committed to its
Group C sports car programme, but as it dominated Le Mans the company’s
sound engineering would in parallel power McLaren to a string of F1
world titles – even if it was by stealth.

Prost could see what was happening at the team with which he’d started,
now transformed in Dennis’s image. He’d become a race winner and title
contender at Renault, but a dreadful lack of reliability, in-fighting
with team-mate Rene Arnoux and further tensions with management left him
frustrated – and crownless. To anyone who cared to look, his potential
was clear, and it would be fully realised on his return to McLaren in ’84.

A shaken Lauda knew what he was in for straight away. The driver some
had compared to a computer during his Ferrari days in the 1970s was now
being outfoxed and plain outpaced by the ‘The Professor’, with his mop
of curly hair and crooked nose. Niki couldn’t beat Prost on pure speed,
so he drew on all that vast experience to maximise his scores – and
nabbed a third and final title by just half a point. Prost was
disheartened, but this vastly intelligent man had watched and learned.
His time would come, as his friend Lauda said to him on the podium at

Prost’s deserved first world title follow emphatically (and to no one’s
surprise) in ’85, and another would come the season after – but by now
the ever-shifting F1 sands had changed the landscape. McLaren-TAG was
plateauing, restless Barnard was tempted by the lure of rejuvenating a
misfiring Ferrari, and the Williams-Honda partnership was coming on song.


As Brabham began its slow decline, Piquet joined Frank Williams for ’86,
beside a driver who was finally unleashing his own potency after five
years of frustration at a Lotus team that never really believed in him.
To Piquet’s annoyance, moustachioed Nigel Mansell became a thorn he
could not ignore. In Patrick Head’s masterful FW11, the pair would go
toe to toe, trading blows through the summer – until a dramatic decider
in Adelaide, when a flailing Goodyear tyre would shred Mansell’s dreams.
As Piquet pitted for new rubber in caution, Prost quietly stepped
through to steal the crown. No longer blessed with the fastest car, this
season was the confirmation of his understated genius.


But the following year he had no chance as the Williams-Honda combo
stepped up again, Piquet ‘doing a Lauda’ by scoring his way to the title
against a faster team-mate. Mansell had more wins and pole positions,
but then blew it with a practice crash at Suzuka.


And now Dennis grabbed back the initiative, by luring Honda to McLaren.
As Williams fell away (for now), the Marlboro cars ascended thanks to a
collaborative effort between Gordon Murray, who had arrived from
Brabham, and the well-honed team led by American Steve Nichols. The
MP4-4 would set new benchmarks for excellence and domination.

Prost could have had an easier life by welcoming Piquet as his new
team-mate (Lauda was long gone, having retired for good at the end of
’85), but instead he made the case for Senna. McLaren deserved the best,
he said, it was clear which Brazilian was faster – and to his eternal
credit, he welcomed the significant challenge he knew was about to land
in a team that had revolved around him for four years.

Senna’s precocious ability was obvious in karts, Formula Ford and
Formula 3 and only confirmed by a line-in-sand performance at Monaco for
lowly Toleman in ’84. In the wet, the rookie had almost embarrassed
Prost until the race was stopped early. The momentum had built during
his subsequent years at Lotus, Senna proving a master over one lap and
winning when he could, in a team that was already a shadow of its former
self. Now he finally had his chance for a shot in the premier league.

Fifteen out of 16 wins, eight for Senna, seven for Prost, was the story
of 1988. Only a clumsy slip from Senna as he tried to lap a backmarker
at Monza prevented a Dayglo-and-white wash. Overall, there was little
between them, although Senna’s astonishing 13 poles to Prost’s two gives
an indication of who was out-and-out faster. But Prost actually
outscored Senna over the season, even if the best-11-scores rule made
the Brazilian champion, after a wonderful virtuoso drive at Suzuka.

Click here to read the complete article

sport / / Goodwood's - The history of F1: the 1980s


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