This article originally appeared in the September 1984 issue of Road & Track.
If you ask most Formula 1 enthusiasts to choose just one race to go to, it would probably be Monaco. I don't share this view. In fact, it's one of the races I least like, although my team has won it three times. There is terrible pressure trying to qualify for one of the 20 places on the grid. It is essential to get into the race to earn the starting money; otherwise you have nothing with which to pay the hotel bill.
The weather had been atrocious in the south of France, with 22 consecutive days of rain, but it cleared up before we arrived. The entry was the usual 27, but in the second Brabham Corrado Fabi had taken the place of his brother Teo, who was racing CART in the States.
Thursday's timed practice seemed to depend on whether a driver got a clear run. Michele Alboreto wound up fastest; he was able to stay out on the track far longer without blistering his tires because for his two sets he had chosen seven qualifying tires and one race tire, on the left rear. Derek Warwick was 2nd; he was horrified by the way the drivers were balking each other but was lucky to get 2 clear laps. On his second he lost third gear at the end of the lap, which cost him a few tenths. Alain Prost was 3rd and Niki Lauda 5th. Nelson Piquet made 4th fastest; the BMW engine man told me they were restricting the boost to 700 hp, but were aiming for better torque in the middle range and more—perhaps one should say some—reliability. I think the hero of the day was Stefan Bellof, who was simply hurling his Tyrrell through Casino Square, missing the Armco barrier by inches, to wind up 15th. There were some prominent nonqualifiers, including both Alfas and the second Brabham.
Friday was a "rest" day. But we had a meeting of the International Racing Press Association in the morning, a joint luncheon of IRPA and Les Anciens Pilotes, an opening of the Chase Manhattan Bank by Prince Rainier in the afternoon, and lastly, Robert and Carmen Squarciafichi, owners of the Cap Estel Hotel, gave me dinner.
Saturday started out dull but fortunately turned sunny before evening. The McLaren both had turbos blow in the morning but after the qualifying Prost was on the pole in 1 minute, 23.944 seconds, almost a second faster than he did last year. Niki doesn't seem to qualify as well as Alain and wound up 8th. Nigel Mansell tried the trick of three qualifying and one race tire but his Lotus blew a turbo and he had to go out in the spare car with four qualifiers mounted; in one valiant lap he set the second-fastest time.
Rene Arnoux was 3rd and Alboreto 4th, messing up his second run by wiping out the front suspension on the barrier at Ste. Devote. Warwick, 5th, just pipped his teammate Patrick Tambay and 7th was Andrea de Cesaris, who at one time had been as high as 2nd in the Ligier. The World Champion, Piquet, was a lowly 9th and the 1982 champion, Keke Rosberg, was 10th after coping with the Williams-Honda's understeer.
The seven non-qualifiers were Marc Surer, Martin Brundle, Eddie Cheever, Thierry Boutsen, Jonathan Palmer, Mauro Baldi and Philippe Alliot, from 4 to 6 seconds off the pole pace in the above order, but such underrated drivers as Francois Hesnauit and Piercarlo Ghinzani made it into the fastest 20. Brundle had a horrifying accident at the Tabac; the car turned over, and when it was put back on its wheels he was still slumped in the seat. He told me afterward that he was just trying too hard and went straight into the barrier; he didn't remember much after that.
I was rather concerned about my vantage point for the race. I needed to see the circuit and a TV set, a Longines computer if possible. The press room was hopeless with only two small sets and a Longines for about 200 people, and the pits were closed to the press after 2:00 pm. Four Canadian fans of R&T had generously offered to let me watch from their room at the Loews Hotel, but it was too far from the pits.
Fortunately an English couple, Lesley and Barry Dews, offered their apartment at Beau Rivage. It must be about the finest viewpoint in Monaco. It is quite a climb up from Ste. Devote corner and you need all the right passes a special one for the building, but when I got there I could see from Ste. Devote up to the Casino, and from the chicane almost to the pits. They had a TV set going that I could see from the balcony and there was a large illuminated scoreboard opposite us. What more could I want?
Sunday started gray; by 10:00 am the road was damp and the drizzle increased to a downpour, with no letup in sight. The start was delayed while fire engines sprayed down the tunnel to make it as wet as outside; it was a shame that Cheever had not qualified as he is a real rainmaster.
Prost and Mansell were away well at the flag, and Warwick passed Arnoux going into Ste. Devote. The Ferrari driver responded by hitting Derek's left rear wheel, pushing him into the barrier. As he bounced off, he was hit by his teammate Tambay, who was unable to avoid him. Both Renaults were out, Tambay with a small fracture to his left leg, which could keep him out of the Montreal race, and Warwick only bruised.
Elio de Angelis and Riccardo Patrese were trapped behind the Renaults and had to wait until all the other cars had gone by before extricating themselves. De Cesaris was hit in the back and retired when he got to the pits.
At the end of the first lap Prost led Mansell by 1.2 seconds, followed by Arnoux, Alboreto, Lauda, Rosberg, Manfred Winkelhock, Jacques Laffite, Ayrton Senna, Fabi, Bellof, Ghinzani, De Angelis, Johnny Cecotto, Patrese, Piquet and Hesnauit. Cecotto dropped out on the next round when his engine cut.
Lauda began to speed up and close on the Ferraris, while Bellof had moved up from last on the grid to 10th in 3 laps. Lauda took Alboreto on the fourth and then Arnoux on the fifth, by which time Prost had a 2.7-second lead over Mansell. Alboreto began to close on Arnoux but on the ninth lap he spun, losing nearly a whole lap.
For some laps Mansell had been gradually closing on Prost and got within 1.8 seconds, which remained constant until the twelfth. Suddenly he emerged from the tunnel with a 1.3-second lead on the McLaren; apparently Fabi had spun at the entrance and as Prost took avoiding action, Mansell slipped by.
Nigel extended his lead and by the fifteenth lap was 7.5 seconds ahead. Senna, driving a fabulous race, passed Rosberg and then Arnoux to put the Toleman into 4th behind Lauda. Piquet, who had had a bad start and never recovered, dropped out after 15 laps with a dead engine.
Mansell seemed to be going awfully fast and I rather feared for him as it was his first time leading a Grand Prix. On the sixteenth lap as he was tearing up the hill to the Casino he got just 3 inches to the right of his regular line when flat-out in fifth gear. This put a rear wheel on the white line and the resulting wheelspin flicked the tail into the barrier and broke the rear wing. He tried to continue but had to park the Lotus at Mirabeau. It was really too bad as he had driven wonderfully all weekend.
This left Prost with a 32.6-second lead over Lauda. But Senna was inexorably closing on the Austrian and outbraked him superbly going into Ste. Devote on the nineteenth lap. Both the McLarens were now having brake trouble from the dampness of their carbon-fiber discs. Lauda spun off when a brake locked up at the Casino Square; he got the car pointed in the right direction but stalled the engine and had to abandon. Prost said his brakes progressively worsened as the rain got heavier. But Senna went ever faster and made the quickest lap of the race on the twenty-fourth.
Patrese, no lover of the rain, spun twice, once when hit by Hesnauit and again when it was his own fault, retiring on lap 25.
The heroes for the remainder of the race were undoubtedly Senna and Bellof. As the rain got heavier, beginning to bounce 2 inches up from the track, Senna took 2 seconds off Prost's lead each lap, then 3, and it became obvious that he would soon take the lead. Bellof, giving Arnoux a hard time, eventually overtook him in the finest maneuver of the day. Although Rene did his utmost to cut him off, he got inside the Ferrari going into Mirabeau, went up on the curb to squeeze by, and disappeared in the spray ahead.
By lap 30 the rain was really belting down and it was obvious that within 2 laps one of two things would happen: Either Senna would pass Prost into the lead or they would stop the race. On lap 32 Jacques Ickx, clerk of the course, made the decision that enabled Prost to win and robbed Senna of a possible victory.
Both the red flag and the checkered flag were shown to Prost. The regulations say that if more than 2 laps but less than 75 percent of race distance have been completed, then half-point scores are awarded. The checkered flag should not have been shown as this denotes the completion of the race; they should have displayed the red flag only and then waited to see if the race could be restarted. In fact as I walked around 15 minutes later, it had stopped raining.
Prost had driven a very sensible, mature race, and said that if Senna had challenged him he would have let him pass. Anyway, I think he would have come into the pits on the next lap, as he thought his left front vibration (from the brake) was a wheel coming off, as had happened at Dijon. The result was good for him, even if only 4.5 points, as his closest rivals did not score. But he would have gained more points on them if he had been 2nd over the full distance.
Ayrton Senna, only in his fifth Grand Prix race, put up a staggering performance in the Toleman-Hart. Rain is a great equalizer of cars and therefore shows up the best drivers. Senna had problems with his brakes too, and spilled fuel had soaked through the back of his suit, which is very painful. He said, "It is frustrating that the race had to be stopped, because I knew I had a rare chance to win. If it had been dry it would have been a very different story." This was indeed modest. Bellof, coming from last on the grid to 3rd place with a Cosworth engine, gave a superb demonstration of forceful driving and control. Arnoux had done well to stay on the road and finish 4th, but couldn't match the two young chargers.
Rosberg was 5th with his understeering chassis and peaky engine, while De Angelis did a great job to recover from his first-lap snarl and finish 6th for 0.5 points. Later Senna said that if it was declared a wet race beforehand, they should continue whatever the conditions, as was done in 1972. Keke, whose views I respect very much, said it was right to stop it, as the visibility had become almost impossible. My belief is that it is up to the driver to drive according to the conditions, but that if the race had to be stopped, the organizers could have allowed one more lap and given Senna a chance to pass. Stirling Moss said he thought it was ridiculous to stop the race, a bias toward Prost who had signaled for it.
The press service was vastly inferior to either Zolder or Imola. The whole town was completely fenced in, making it like a prisoner-of-war camp for inhabitants and spectators. The great attraction for Monaco—the beautiful scenery and sunshine—was missing this year.
What I enjoyed most was the nearby bistro, where I met American soldiers on leave from Germany, Australian and New Zealander yachting crews about to cross the Atlantic in 90-meter boats, Canadians from Vancouver, Italians from over the border, and even some Frenchmen, all interested in just one thing—motor racing.