Duel of Champions
The year started with two victories by the McLaren team with Prost the victor at Brazil while his teammate answered the challenge with a win at the Grand Prix of South Africa. The six-cylinder TAG-Porsche providing exceptional motive power. Ferrari's Alboreto took the Belgian Grand Prix run at Zolder. Monaco was a shambles for a number of teams when drivers, de Angelis (Lotus), de Cesaris (Ligier) and Cheever (Euroracing) ran out of gas before the finish line while Prost took his second victory of the year. This race would have been quickly forgotten had it not been for two young lions Stefan Bellof and Ayrton Senna catching the established leaders in the heavy rain. While Bellof would suffer a tragic accident at Spa while attempting to pass Jacky Ickx on the outside at Eau Rouge during a Sports Car race Senna would rise to the top of Formula 1 by dint of talent and charisma.
Feeling snubbed by McLaren and Williams after what he felt were successful tests his unsatisfactory 2nd place at Monaco did little to change his perception that the racing establishment were arrayed against him. This attitude would not change away easily. The next two races oddly enough were the twin US Grands Prix at Detroit and Dallas. Nelson Piquet scored a victory in Detroit but the race in Dallas proved a near fiasco when the newly laid asphalt surface melted under the fierce sun and started to come apart. Despite the driver's strong misgivings the race was held under the orders of Bernie Ecclestone. The race actually proved quite thrilling due to a rousing duel between the Englishmen Mansell and the Finn Keke Rosberg. The race was decided when Mansell had to visit the pits for new tires. Mansell's race ended in a heap literally when he collapsed while trying to push his Lotus over the line for 5th place. Whether feigned or not it proved great theater.
The British Grand Prix was next on the schedule. The finishing order saw Lauda in first followed by Derek Walker and Senna. McLaren's lead in the constructor's race grew insurmountable with their 1-2 at the next race in Germany. Prost take honors over his teammate Lauda. While the German race was held at Hockenheim the European Grand Prix found itself at the new Nurburgring, a circuit which regrettably had nothing in common with the old course, adding a final tragic note to Lauda's near-fatal crash of a year ago. Prost qualified on pole while his teammate was nowhere to be seen in 15th spot. Prost would lead from start to finish to close the gap between himself and Lauda with 62 1/2 points to the latter's 66. The final race was at Estoril for the Portuguese Grand Prix. Prost started from the front row next to the pole winner, Piquet. At the start it was Rosberg who jumped into the lead with Mansell following him to the front. On the second lap Prost managed to pass Mansell and 7 laps later passed Rosberg into the lead. Meanwhile Lauda who started in 15th began to close on the leaders. With Prost leading Lauda had to finish second to take the championship with 18 laps to go he was still in third place well back of Mansell. Just then luck shown on the Austrian when Mansell's brakes failed causing him to spin off allowing Lauda into second place and with that the championship by 1/2 point over Prost.
For 1985 new man Ayrton Senna joined Elio de Angelis in the Lotus team replacing Mansell who moved to Williams. Alboreto lifted Ferrari's spirits after a single win season in 1984 with a pole position in the opening race in Brazil only to collide with Mansell's Williams in the first corner. Luckily the Italian was able to continue and even lead up to lap 18. A bad gear change allowed Prost into the lead where he would remain. The Portuguese Grand Prix now the second race on the calendar was run in a complete downpour. The race saw the brilliance of Senna displayed for all to see. Starting from pole he was 30 seconds in the lead after the same amount of laps. By the end he led the only other car on the same lap by 1 minute 32 seconds a new star had arrived.
Senna continued his charge at Imola challenged by Prost in a duel that would continue for the rest of their careers. Senna was just able to hold off Prost but in doing so ran out of fuel two laps from the end giving the Frenchman the victory only to be disqualified in favor of Senna's teammate de Angelis. The Belgian Grand Prix was a complete disaster when the track broke up during qualifying forces the race to be abandoned in disgrace. Saturday morning drivers stopped practice after 15 minutes, saying the track was undrivable. Lauda described it as ''driving on snow.''
For the Canadian Grand Prix the first four places were held by Lotus and Ferrari. While strong qualifying performances were beginning to be expected from Senna it must be pointed that his teammate de Angelis was rarely embarrassed by the Brazilian and more often then not showed a fair amount of speed in his own right. The race itself belonged to the Ferrari team with a 1-2 lead by Alboreto. In Detroit it was Rosberg's turn to shine while Piquet showed all that he was still a force to reckon with by taking the French Grand Prix. With Rosberg, Lauda, Mansell, Piquet, Prost, Alboreto and Senna the F1 world had seven driver's worthy of being World Champion.
The Austrian Grand Prix saw a victory by Prost as well as a retirement notice by its native son. Niki Lauda suffering through a dismal season, qualifying well back in the pack and being overshadowed by his younger teammate decided that this would be his last year. Prost won again in Italy while Lauda capped his great career with a final win in Holland. Prost was now in the lead for the championship which he garnered at Brands Hatch site of that year's European Grand Prix followed by Michele Alboreto and Keke Rosberg in third. McLaren would also win the Manufacturer's Championship with with eight points to spare over Ferrari. The last three races were won by the Williams team, two by Nigel Mansell and one by Rosberg.
Besides the retirement of Lauda the end of the season also brought about the withdrawal of the full Renault factory team. Major financial problems emerged at Renault and the company could no longer justify the large expenses needed to maintain the racing team's competitiveness. CEO Georges Besse pared down the company's involvement in F1 from full-fledged racing team to engine supplier Having started the turbo era in 1977 the French team was unsuccessful in winning either championship.
The 1986 season would be regarded as the pinnacle of the turbo era in Formula 1 when turbocharged engines were made compulsory due to an inexplicable ban on naturally aspirated engines. One of the major developments that year was Renault's use of pneumatic valves instead of springs that increased maximum possible engine speed from 11,500 to 12,500 RPM. The cars were the most powerful to ever have raced. There were still no limits on engine power, and some engines, including the powerful but unreliable BMW M12/13 1.5 litre single turbocharged straight-4 engine used by the Benetton, Brabham and Arrows teams, could develop in access of 1,350 hp at 5.5 bar boost (79.7 psi) during qualifying. Such was the strain put on the drivetrain that special units were bolted on during qualifying that were taken out and replaced with the boost-restricted engines and specifically prepared gearboxes for the races. The Williams Honda's twin-turbocharged V6 and the TAG/Porsche of McLaren were two other top power units.
As regards to drivers Keke Rosberg would leave Williams to join McLaren and take John Watson seat. Nelson Piquet would take the now vacant Williams-Honda seat. Alfa Romeo found themselves without an engine. The Toleman team would now be known as Benetton with Gerhard Berger and Teo Fabi as their drivers and now powered by BMW engines. The Brazilian sensation, Ayrton Senna was still at Lotus and his co-driver would be Johnny Dumfries (Earl of Dumfries) after Senna blocked their original choice, Derek Warwick. Renault which would no longer compete as a team would still provide engines for the Lotus, Tyrell and Ligier team. Tyrrell would add pay driver Phillippe Streiff to partner alongside Martin Brundle. Carl Haas's Lola-Force team would now be known as Beatrice.
Just two weeks before the first race in Brazil, the Williams team was struck by an altogether unexpected blow. Frank Williams on his way back from testing at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Castellet, and eager to catch the last flight out of Nice airport lost control of his rented Ford Sierra and crashed heavily on a curve causing his car to roll over several times before landing in a field. His passenger Peter Windsor, Williams' sponsor manager remained largely unhurt, but Williams suffered serious injuries that paralyzed the team founder and confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
With their founder in a London Hospital the Williams team still had to make their way to Brazil, the first race on the calendar. Ayrton Senna started from pole but was soon being pressured by the Williams of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. While Mansell had a spin after contact with Senna, Piquet would take the win by 34 second over countryman Senna driving a Lotus 98T. A minute behind Piquet, in third place was French driver Jacques Laffite driving a Ligier JS27. A little cheer would return to the Williams team.
The next race would bring the teams to Jerez in Spain after a five year absence. This race featured a three car battle for over the last half of the race between Senna, Mansell and Prost. Sensing an opportunity Mansell pitted for fresh tyres making up over 19 seconds in the final 10 laps on his fresh rubber but he was not able to pass a defensive Senna who took checkered flag by 0.014 seconds it was one of the closest finishes in Formula One history. The third round of the year's World Championship was held at Imola, the San Marino Grand Prix. Alain Prost dominated the race after Senna and Nigel Mansell both retired early. The only bit of excitement came when Prost almost ran out of fuel, three corners from the checkered flag. Prost would win again from Pole at Monaco.
Four of the next five races were won by Nigel Mansell with only Senna's win in Detroit breaking the string. At the German Grand Prix it was his teammate's turn with the brazilian Nelson Piquet taking the win. Piquet repeated at the next race, the inaugural Hungarian Grand Prix. After the race the battle for the championship was a four man race with 11 points separating Mansell from Prost with Senna and Piquet sandwiched in between. The Austrian Grand Prix held at the Österreichring proved well suited to the powerful BMW engined Benenttons with driver Teo Fabi claiming pole position only to blow his engine shortly after passing his teammate Berger for the lead. Berger, himself would lose four laps due to problems with his battery and Alain Prost took the win for Mclaren. With both Williams cars as well as Senna retiring Prost was now just two points behind Mansell for the lead in the Championship. The Williams duo would trade wins at the next two races and going into the Mexican Grand Prix Mansell was ten points clear of his teammate in the Championship battle while Williams Team was crowned the Manufacturers Champion for 1986.
It seemed that going into the tail end of the season the only question left was which of the Williams teammates would become the new World Champion. Within the team Mansell and Piquet were bitter rivals with Piquet believing he had been promised number one status in the team, which he hadn’t received. It had been sixteen years since Formula 1 had been back to Mexico. Ayrton Senna claimed his eighth pole of the season with Piquet joining him on the front row. Gerhard Berger joined Mansell on the second with both drivers feeling out of sorts, Mansell suffering the "revenge" of Montezuma. Alain Prost was directly behind Berger on the third row. When the flag dropped Senna held his lead as far as the first corner before locking up, running wide, and letting Piquet through into the lead. Mansell made a horrible start when he was unable to find first gear and completed the first lap in 18th place! By eleventh lap Mansell had clawed his way up to ninth only to pit with blistering tires. One by one the front-running drivers on Goodyear tyres were forced to make stops.
Berger, with Pirelli tyres gambled on getting to the end of the race without pitting. Only Prost amongst the Goodyear runners was able to make it to the end of the race with only one pitstop. It was the first wind of Berger's career as well as the first win for the benetton team. The Championship race was now down to three drivers with Senna being eliminated. The final race in in Australia would determine the World Champion.
The race in Australia was decided by tires. On the 34th lap a puncture forced Prost, then second behind Rosberg, into the pits for a 17-second tyre change. When the Goodyear technicians saw the state of Prost's tyres they decided the cars would be able to get through the 82-lap race without a change, and advised the teams accordingly. This faithful decision would doom Mansell's chances when his tire blew on the 63rd lap damaging his suspension. Piquet, who was leading the race, was called in to change his tyres for safety reasons, leaving the lead to Prost. Piquet closed to within four seconds of the leader because Prost had to slow to conserve fuel but could get no closer. The victory gave Prost the World Championship by two points over Mansell.