There was more than the usual degree of Italian emotion as Patrick Tambay accelerated the Ferrari towards the chequered flag on Sunday. It was the Frenchman's first grand prix victory, and such a thing is always momentous, of course. He had driven a splendid race, passed both Renaults, took up the lead when Nelson Piquet's Brabham-BMW was punted out of it.
More than that, he did it under pressure. Not from any other driver, but from the weight of his own responsibilities. Ferrari could look only to him, for Didier Pironi, after completely dominating practice, had crashed disastrously on Saturday morning. In an accident eerily reminiscent of that which killed Gilles Villeneuve, Pironi's car hit the rear of another, Alain Prost's Renault, took off at 160mph, cartwheeled three times down the track and hit the guardrail.
Somehow Didier survived, but his injuries, particularly those to his right leg, were appalling, and his racing career may well be at an end.
Pironi's accident inevitably cast a pall over the weekend, and the race did little to raise anyone's spirits - save those of Ferrari, of course. The Frenchman had apparently been on course to win the world championship, and indeed still leads it by nine points with four races to go.
The early part of the German Grand Prix belonged to Nelson Piquet, who took the Brabham-BMW into a massive lead, intending to stop at half distance for fuel and tyres. Yet again, though, we were cheated of the spectacle. After 18 laps the world champion fell foul of Eliseo Salazar's ATS at the fatuous new chicane before the Ostkurve. In another instant, both drivers were out of their cars. In a further, Piquet was out of his mind with rage and attempted to flatten Salazar. Wonderful thing, sport.
Thereafter Tambay was home free. Earlier in the race he had coped easily with both Renaults. By now Prost was out, and Arnoux unable to make any challenge. At the finish Rene was second, ahead of Keke Rosberg's troubled Williams, Michele Alboreto's Tyrrell, Bruno Giacomelli's half-skirted Alfa Romeo and Marc Surer's hard-driven Arrows.
Eight laps from the end John Watson lost a certain third place - and, more important to him, four championship points - when his McLaren went off the road after breaking its front suspension. It had been a very fine drive by John, aggressive yet neat, and it deserved better.
Watson was the McLaren team's only representative in the race, for Niki Lauda damaged his arm in a practice accident, and was unable to start.
As at Paul Ricard, you needed a turbo to be competitive here. In practice there were three clear seconds between the slowest turbo (Toleman apart) and the quickest normally aspirated car. And this, predictably, did not make for enthralling racing.
Hockenheim provided further evidence, if any were needed, that grand prix racing has lost its way. This year the first chicane was considerably tighter than before, and the second-gear affair before the Ostkurve was new altogether. Despite that, Pironi's fastest practice lap was only two seconds slower than the fastest ever, set by Alan Jones in the sliding skirts era. Faster and faster cars, slower and slower circuits.
Entry and Practice
Hockenheim was at its dismal worst on Saturday morning, with leaden skies and torrential rain. We were a few minutes late in arriving, and practice was already underway. As we parked the car, got out and donned anoraks, there was, in the distance, the quite horrifying sight of a red car cartwheeling down the road.
The wreckage of Didier Pironi's Ferrari 126 C2 after his career-ending accident in practice© LAT
The accident occurred on the straight before the right-hander into the stadium, and the wreckage of Didier Pironi's Ferrari finished up at the trackside on the right, the front of the car completely shattered. Yet another mammoth accident in the bloodiest grand prix season for many years.
Pironi, the world championship leader, had been the dominant figure of qualifying. Almost a full second faster than anyone else during Friday's timed session, he was on only his fourth lap in the rains of Saturday morning, and had already set a time that would stand as comfortably the quickest of the session. Ahead of him, as he came out of the chicane, were Alain Prost's Renault and Derek Daly's Williams.
"I was slowing," Prost reported later, "to come into the pits at the end of the lap, and I was on the left of the track, at maybe 200kph. Derek overtook me on the right." Thundering up behind, into the wall of spray, was Pironi.
It seems clear that Didier interpreted Daly's move to the right as an effort to get out of his way, give him room to go by. And the Ferrari driver, unable to see the Renault, headed full tilt into what he thought was a gap, an empty space...
The parallels between this accident and the one which took the life of Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder are only too plain. Pironi's left front wheel hit Prost's right rear, and the Ferrari immediately soared into the air. "I felt helpless," said Alain.
"Didier was going much quicker than me, and his car actually overtook me in the air. It landed, gearbox first, in front of me, then bounced away, somersaulting down the road. It was terrible. I was worried about hitting him because I had hardly any braking - the right rear corner was gone from my car..."
The Ferrari flipped over backwards, finally landing - mercifully - on its wheels, whence it hit the guardrail on the right with enormous force, coming to rest a few yards beyond.
For a few seconds Didier Pironi did not move, but then with great relief, we saw him try to lift his left arm. He was alive. He was conscious. Considering the violence of the accident that, in itself, was remarkable.
Soon other drivers went to his aid. Nelson Piquet braked violently to a stop, leapt from his Brabham and ran back to the Ferrari. There he removed Pironi's helmet, and was joined soon by Prost. Later, shocked to the core, Nelson drove back to the pits, arriving there in tears. Didier, it was clear, was dreadfully injured.
Nearly half an hour elapsed before he was lifted from the shattered cockpit, placed on a stretcher and taken by helicopter to hospital. He had been trapped in the car, and it was considered vital to stabilise him before starting the work to cut him free.
It was, in sum, an appalling scene, blue lights flashing against the murky sky, rain beating down, and that unnatural race track silence which never fails to chill. From the hospital later came the word that Pironi's life was not in danger, but with it the news of several major fractures, the most serious to his right leg.
Before the accident, Didier had established himself as the clear favourite to win in Germany, to extend his world championship lead. He was stunningly quick on Friday afternoon. First set of qualifiers: 1m50.862s, then 1m49.876s, 1m49.733s. Second set: 1m47.947s and 1m48.241s. In. "The car feels fantastic here," he beamed afterwards. "If I need to I can go quicker tomorrow, for sure, I am surprised," he went on, "to find that I am a second quicker than the Renaults and BMWs."
Once again, Pironi had tried the longitudinal gearbox C2 in the first untimed session, and once again he had opted to stick with the shorter wheelbase transverse gearbox car. And it was in this that he crashed the following morning. Didier's dream of becoming the first French world champion is now gone, and one must wonder if he has driven his last race.
Patrick Tambay was left to carry the hopes of Ferrari after his team leader had fallen© LAT
In the Ferrari pit Patrick Tambay was understandably sombre before the final qualifying session. "I guess," he said ruefully, "that I have a lot of responsibility now, a lot of pressure on me. I am very sad for Didier, but also for the guys..." and he jerked his head towards the mechanics. "Just when they had started to get over Gilles, when things were going well for the team again."
Patrick's last session, once more in mostly heavy rain, was an indication of consummate courage, as well as his sensitivity as a racing driver. For most of it, the number 27 Ferrari was the fastest, being pipped at the end by Piquet and the Brabham-BMW. "I feel a little better now," he commented later. Had the pressure of being Ferrari's only representative got to him? "No, not like I thought. Once I was out in the car. I forgot all that. It is a very satisfying drive in the rain these days, you know, because the ground effect doesn't really mean anything when the ground is slippery. You can drive the car delicately, rather than brutally. The only thing wrong with the rain, of course, is the visibility problem..."
In the only dry session, on Friday, Tambay had set the fifth best time, which became fourth on the grid, of course, with his team leader's disaster. Ahead of him were the two Renaults and Piquet.
Formula 1 is in a state of transformation, of course, with most people now agreed - well, reconciled to the fact, anyway - that they will have to go to the turbo route in the future. As in 1966, when some teams ran stretched engines from the previous formula against the 3-litre cars, we have at the moment two classes in Formula 1 at most circuits. As at Paul Richard, the Ferraris, Renaults and Brabham-BMWs were simply in a different race, their slowest representative - Riccardo Patrese - being almost three whole seconds quicker than the lead normally-aspirated runner, the Tyrrell of Michele Alboreto.
If the Renault drivers had been hard pushed to live with Pironi's Ferrari, they were nevertheless happy enough, although it was quite evident that the rift between Prost and Arnoux remains.
For Hockenheim Alain had a brand new chassis, and was well pleased with it, although he had reservations about its engine during Friday afternoon, and later switched to his T-car, which was in 'standard' specification: unlike the two race cars, it did not have the hydraulic self-levelling suspension system.
Following the Pironi accident, of course, Prost was obliged to run the spare again on Saturday afternoon, although his race chassis was repaired a few minutes before the session finished. Right there, wet or dry, Alain felt good about his chances. So, too, did Rene, who had a turbo go during the first session, but otherwise ran consistently well. Would he support his team-mate on race day? We wondered...
After all their fiery problems in the heat of Paul Ricard, Brabham people were relieved to find Hockenheim cooler. In France everything simply got too hot, and for Germany there were new air ducts and further use of asbestos in evidence at the back of the car. Both Brabham-BMWs ran very reliably during practice, and there were no blown engines this time.
Just as the Renault faced their moment of truth a fortnight ago, so Hockenheim was the race which most mattered to BMW. The elegantly-liveried fuel churns and so on were again in evidence, and Piquet confirmed that, again, pit stops were planned. Apparently, modifications to the refuelling equipment now allow 24 gallons into the car in eight seconds. Would the much-rehearsed crew finally get the chance of a public performance?
Nelson was on great form throughout practice, hurling his car through the very quick right-hander after the pits in lovely slides time after time, the Brabham wagging its tail under power as it left the stadium. In the wet, too, the world champion looked superb, setting the fastest time on Saturday afternoon, which was quite a performance, particularly bearing in mind his close involvement with Pironi's rescue earlier in the day. Remarkably, though, Riccardo Patrese did not drive at all on Saturday, and thus had no experience of his car's behaviour in the rain.
Michele Alboreto looked stupendous through the stadium section - especially through the fast right after the pits, and stopwatches for once backed up visual impressions. The long straights apart, the fastest man in the place was the young Italian who, as usual, had only nice things to say about his car: "Handling really good here. A lot of grip, but not enough horsepower..." It was a common enough complaint.
Right on Alboreto's tail we found Niki Lauda, who set his best time on his second flying lap of Friday afternoon. The McLaren star was also wonderful to behold through the turn after the pits...but, wait a minute...he's spinning! As if to remind us, perhaps, that even he makes the odd mistake, Niki lost the car in a big way, and as it ploughed through the catch fencing the steering wheel was flicked round, giving Lauda's arm a painful wrench.
Niki had taken to the grass to avoid Rupert Keegan's March at the previous corner, and wondered if his tyres might have picked up some dirt, accounting for his lack of adhesion a few seconds later. After the mishap he went out in the spare MP4B, and it was not until some times later that his arm really began to hurt. Ligaments had been torn, and Niki decided not to drive at all on Saturday, hoping that all would be well for race day. Late on Saturday afternoon, however, he withdrew from the race, leaving the team's fortunes in the hands of John Watson, who would start ninth (having qualified 11th), his car suffering, he said, from a little too much understeer.
Keke Rosberg was incensed by the introduction of a chicane at the Ostkurve © LAT
That was also the main problem with Keke Rosberg's Williams FW08. "I'm losing time at all the chicanes - which means I'm losing a lot of time!" Keke, like many of his colleagues, was incensed by changes to the circuit, the tightening of the first chicane and the insertion of a new one before the Ostkurve. "It's bloody ridiculous - and dangerous," he commented. "I tell you, on the first lap I'm going to keep out of the way. For sure, four cars written off there. At least," he went on, "the Ostkurve used to give this place a bit of character. It would have been far better to move the guardrail way up the slope beyond, and to have left the corner as it was..."
You needed only a glance at the new chicane to see the extent of modern Formula 1 insanity. Ludicrously tight, a little opening in a tyre wall - with an escape road which leads straight back onto the circuit! Down came the cars (from the previous chicane, of course) towards a corner which Mario Andretti used to describe as "a character builder." Only now they braked hard, changed down to second, threaded their way through, one by one. What next? Turnstiles? Toll booths? Where lies the point of all this phenomenal cornering ability when there are no corners? The spectators yawned. Yet again the dog was being wagged.
Derek Daly was another to lament the end of the flat-in-fifth right-hander, but admitted that he did have temporary reason to be grateful for the change. As he accelerated through the corner on Friday afternoon, his left front wheel suddenly parted company with the car: "Well, that was fun, wasn't it?" And such is the suppleness of the state-of-the-art F1 machine that Derek was able to drive it back to the pits without problem!
"Then I went out in the spare," he related, "but that's got the mysterious Williams misfire. You remember all that trouble Alan Jones had at Hockenheim last year? Well, we came here and tested, and we had it. And now we've got it again." Always in his element in the rain, Daly shone on Saturday morning, his time bettered only by the unfortunate Pironi.
The Alfa Romeos, as usual, excelled at the chicane. The 'swervability' of Gerard Ducarouge's 182 chassis has always been its strongest suit, and only a comparative lack of straight-line speed kept the V12 cars from slotting in naturally between the turbos and the Cosworths. At no stage of practice did either Alfa run completely cleanly with any high revs. Andrea de Cesaris started seventh, Bruno Giacomelli 10th.
The only other 12-cylinder cars in the race, the Talbot-Ligier JS19s, were not able to run with the Alfas, although they did perform better than on previous appearances, Eddie Cheever starting 11th and Jacques Lafitte 14th. "We have different suspension pick-up points at front and back, and the car is quicker into corners than before, but on the straights we are a joke."
Before the first timed session, softer springs were fitted to both cars, and this, said Cheever, reduced the JS19's inherent understeer and improved the balance. There were few actual mechanical problems during the two days, although Lafitte blew an engine on Friday morning.
Nigel Mansell returned to the scene at Hockenheim, starting 17th, with Elio de Angelis 12th. Still in considerable pain from his 'Montreal arm,' Nigel had a smaller brace on it this time, which hampered him less than the one he wore at Brands Hatch. He was less than thrilled with the handling of his Lotus 91, but found more frustrating the sheer superiority of the turbos in a straight line.
While other teams who tested at Hockenheim a few weeks ago were significantly quicker during practice. Lotus somehow went the other way.
As you watched smoke pour off the left rear wheel of Derek Warwick's Toleman as it accelerated through Ostkurve, you were left in no doubt of the power of Brian Hart's engine. "Oh, if it feels really strong out of corners," agreed Derek, but the top speed is hopeless - because of the aerodynamics I suppose. It just runs out of steam." The big car looked clumsy through the chicanes, but Derek was easily in the race, 13th, which was more than could be said for the luckless Teo Fabi. After only half a dozen laps on Friday morning, the Italian's car caught fire when the oil system emptied itself - all over the back of the car. With no spare available, the Italian had to sit out the afternoon session, and the following day, of course, was wet. Fabi currently leads the Resilience Championship by a considerable margin.
Both ATS drivers complained of too little grip, but qualified without problem, Manfred Winkelhock 15th and Eliseo Salazar 21st. Immediately behind the German on the grid was Brian Henton in the second Tyrrell, which this weekend had the revised rear bodywork tried successfully by Alboreto at Paul Ricard. Ken Tyrrell readily admits that Brian's car is considerably heavier than Michele's, but at present lacks the sponsorship money to put it into the same specification.
Behind Jean-Pierre Jarier's Osella, in 20th position, was Roberto Guerrero in the Ensign. "I tell you, it was a great surprise to see the car here," remarked Roberto. "The team is so short of money that I thought we would miss the race. I decided to come out, anyway, and then the transporter arrived!" With only a single engine at his disposal for the entire weekend. Guerrero did very well to qualify 20th, his session cut short by a broken driveshaft.
Tommy Byrne failed to make the cut at his first attempt to qualify for a grand prix © LAT
Mauro Baldi and Marc Surer went different routes with their Arrows A4s, the young Italian going for straightline speed and running with little wing, the Swiss opting for grip through the stadium. Baldi got the best of it, 22nd to 25th. Between them were Raul Boesel, the only March qualifier this week, and Chico Serra, who ran the new Fittipaldi F9 throughout the practice.
The final qualifier, after the enforced withdrawal of Pironi and Lauda, should have been Tommy Byrne with the Theodore. The Irishman began his F1 debut with a trip through the tyres at the Ostkurve chicane, which brought proceedings to a temporary halt, but otherwise coped sensibly. Unhappily, he was unable to start because Ferrari did not officially withdraw their entry for Pironi before the grid was published. Although this was done on Sunday morning, the organisers refused to give way.
The only man to miss the cut was Rupert Keegan, back to F1 with March on a temporary basis. Jochen Mass, rumoured to be thinking of quitting grand prix racing following his dreadful Ricard accident, did turn up at Hockenheim, and drove his 821 briefly at the start of the first session. But Mass cracked a couple of ribs in the shunt, and found, in the course of a couple of laps, that the pain was insupportable. That being the case, he withdrew, and Keegan, who shares Guy Edward's Group C Lola, took over.
The weathermen for once had it right: overcast but dry. That, together with the news that Didier Pironi was in better shape than might have been expected, served to lift everyone's spirits a little on Sunday morning.
In the pits the Brabham team's fluorescent pit stop line had been painted - and someone with a sense of humour (?) had put in another, in white, which ran alongside at first, then peeled away left into the guardrail... This time the word was that Piquet would start with half-tanks, and that Patrese, perhaps a little edgy after his Ricard fire, would aim to go the distance without a stop.
During the warm-up Surer blew his engine, and the Arrows mechanics pitched into changing it during the two hours before the start. There were worries, too, for Prost and Rosberg, both of whom had misfiring engines. Overnight Ferrari had put their spare car - Pironi's 'longitudinal' car - into transverse gearbox trim, in case Tambay should need it. In his regular car, the Frenchman set second best time in the warm-up, behind Piquet.
The Williams team had both Rosberg's cars on the grid, and Keke finally hopped into the spare after finding the race car's misfire still present. In worse trouble was Baldi, whose Arrows refused to fire up, the Italian eventually took the T-car, and started from the pits after the rest had completed their first flying lap.
As Ferrari had not withdrawn Pironi officially at the time the grid was finalised, his position in the order of things stood. Pole position was left vacant, and Prost - now the man at the front - started from position two. The gap left by Lauda, on the other hand, was filled, with everyone behind the Austrian in practice moving up one position.
The two Renaults of Arnoux and Prost led initially © LAT
At the green Arnoux got the better of Prost as the two yellow Renaults surged away towards the first turn, but undoubtedly the best start of all came from Cheever, who got everything absolutely right, selected a straight path down the inside and went for it. From 13th on the grid he was up to seventh by the first corner, behind Arnoux, Prost, Piquet, Alboreto, Tambay and de Cesaris.
By the end of the first lap Piquet's intentions were clear. Already in trouble, trailing at the back, was Winkelhock's ATS, which had lost its clutch at the start and would shortly retire, to the vast disappointment of the amphitheatre.
Two laps: Nelson, sure enough, was through and away. He had sliced by the leading Renault into the first chicane, and by the end of the lap he had moved two seconds clear of it! After three laps, his lead was 3.6s, after which it grew like this: 4.9, 6.3, 7.8, 10.1, 11.6, 13.9... Getting the picture? On half tanks, the Brazilian was flying, and one tended to look upon the battle for second as the scrap for the lead. Piquet was having an afternoon alone, and would come back into normal framework of the race only after his pitstop. Team-mate Patrese, on full tanks, could make no impression on the Renaults or Ferrari.
Cheever's startling early charge came to nought when he brought the Talbot-Ligier in at the end of the second lap to have the left hand skirt replaced. It was the first of many skirt problems through the race - inevitable, perhaps, at a circuit pock-marked by chicanes.
Very early in the proceedings it was obvious that Prost was not able to keep with his for-want-of-a-better-word team-mate, and Tambay duly took the Ferrari past the second Renault on lap four, immediately beginning to close on Arnoux's second place.
Inevitably, the leading turbos were into a race of their own - Piquet, Tambay, Arnoux, Prost, Patrese. The rest, led splendidly by de Cesaris's Alfa, could only hope for crumbs from the table, hope that the leaders would expire. Rosberg ran behind Andrea, but the man really on the move was Watson, his McLaren a much more potent force in race trim than in qualifying, as so often seems to be the case. John was driving with great verve and aggression. He caught Keke, went by and quickly dismissed the Williams from his presence. From there he closed on de Cesaris, the Alfa and McLaren making contact at one point. At the end of the lap nine, Andrea brought the Alfa in to retire, with damage to gearbox and oil cooler.
Behind Watson and Rosberg in the normally-aspirated battle ran Alboreto, but then we had another turbo, Warwick's Toleman in a dice with Daly's Williams and Lafitte's Talbot-Ligier. "My race engine was much stronger at the top end than the one I used in practice," reported Derek afterwards. "I could run with anyone on the straights, but we really were very short of grip. I was trying to run easily in the early laps to save the tyres - and then I got a puncture..." After a considerable moment, crossed up at 120mph near the first chicane, Warwick brought the Toleman in for a tyre change on lap 19, after which the car ran without trouble to the flag. "The engine was fabulous, and I'm sure I would have been about fifth without the puncture. It's a pity. It would have been nice to get the old Belgrano a couple of points before it goes into retirement..."
By lap 10 Piquet's BMW engine was sounding a little less sweet than before, popping and banging a little, but clearly there was no real problem with it, for the world champion continued to extend his lead by at least a second with every lap. Tambay was now a very secure second, having drawn clear of Arnoux.
"All I could hope," related Patrick later, "was that the Brabham would blow up. Just try to forget about it. From the start I concentrated on dealing with the Renaults, and tried to put Nelson out of my mind. But obviously I had to keep going hard, in case they got the fuel stop absolutely right, if I was to have any chance of beating him."
Patrese suffered more unreliability in Germany © LAT
The Brabham challenge was reduced on lap 13, when Patrese came into the pits, immediately unbuckling his belts. The problem seemed to be terminal, and so it was: piston. Watson, Rosberg and Alboreto moved up, all now in the points, for Prost had pitted a couple of laps earlier. His misfire had returned, and the problem was with the electronic injection. After a while he rejoined for a single slow lap, then retired for the day. The turbos were starting to fall by the wayside.
The real drama of the day, however, occurred on lap 19. By now Piquet had a lead of 26 seconds, well on target for the gap he required to make the fuel and tyre stop without losing the lead. He would come in, we guessed, on lap 25 or thereabouts, and everyone was relishing the prospect after two false alarms at Brands and Ricard.
Down towards the Ostkurve chicane Nelson was quickly catching Salazar's ATS, moving to the right of it in the braking area, nosing ahead. Clearly Piquet expected that the Chilean would ease back and give him the line into the tight left-right flick.
Not so. For reasons known only to himself, Salazar just kept coming, apparently trying to race it out with Nelson into the corner. As the Brabham turned in, the ATS simply cannoned into its left rear wheel, pitching the white car into the tyre barrier, whence it spun across the road, over the kerbs and into the run-off area. Salazar's car finished up in the middle of the road.
In his fury, Piquet half fell out of the cockpit, and momentarily you felt the profoundest sympathy for him. He had driven tremendously hard for nearly 100 miles, and now it was all over, thanks to Salazar's incomprehensible action. Eliseo had clearly seen Nelson, for he looked across at him briefly as they entered the braking area.
Most of my sympathy for the world champion evaporated, however, as he flew at Salazar, all fists and feet, by the trackside. On Saturday grand prix racing had made the headlines with yet another dreadful accident, and on Sunday every news bulletin featured the world champion attempting to lay one on another driver. Tragedy, then farce.
Piquet, God knows, had every reason to be livid, but still it was startling to see him so completely out of control of his emotions, and recalled to mind his verbal outburst against Alan Jones at Zolder last year. As well as that, on a pragmatic level, the policy of trying to bring gloved hand into smart contact with helmeted head did seem a trifle shortsighted.
So, through no fault of his, Nelson was out. Eyewitnesses reported that Salazar appeared to be giving him the line into the corner, then appeared to change his mind. Without a doubt, the ATS was braking less than the Brabham during the last few yards before the turning in point. Piquet commented afterwards that Salazar had also given him trouble at Zandvoort. That being the case, it might have been more prudent to wait until the following straight before overtaking.
So Tambay was in front, leading a grand prix for the first time in his life. And when he came into the stadium, there was a mixed reception for him, the Germans stunned by the non-appearance of the BMW-powered Brabham, the Italians and French waving banners and cheering. Patrick had a six-second lead over Arnoux, with Watson now third, more than half a minute back. Soon it became clear that Rene could make no impression on the Ferrari, and what excitement there was came down the field.
From his low grid position, Jacques Lafitte had driven superbly, proving, as at Brands, just how much of a racer he is. By lap 20 his JS19 was up to sixth, and he then overtook Alboreto for fifth, immediately setting off after Rosberg. By lap 27 he was past, but fourth looked to be as high as he was going, for Watson was almost 30 seconds ahead.
Sadly for Jacques, his fourth place lasted only a couple of laps. As he lapped Mansell's Lotus (which had stopped earlier for a new skirt), Lafitte went wide at the first corner, slid sideways and went onto the sandy run-off area. He kept the car under control without problem, but the skirts fell away, pitting on lap 36 to have them replaced. Once there, he could only climb out. Cheever had already been through all the available stock! It was a sad end to a tremendous drive, and a reminder that Lafitte has been missed as a competitive force this season. The future of the JS19, though, looks brighter.
By two-thirds distance, the place was kinda quiet. Elio de Angelis had retired his Lotus after a troublesome race, which saw him into the pits after three laps for a new skirt, and back there again with a puncture after 21. As soon as his car came to rest, the Italian climbed out. He had felt unwell all weekend, and been violently sick while out on the circuit. Unhappy with the handling of his car, de Angelis didn't want to know about climbing back in.
Derek Daly loses a wheel in practice © LAT
Raul Boesel had crashed his March by this time, too, the car going off the road when a deflating tyre suddenly blew out. And Derek Daly parked his Williams by the trackside having nursed the car for many laps with a broken valve spring. By lap 30, indeed, Rosberg's car had suffered the same fate, and the last part of Keke's race was difficult for him, keeping the revs down to 10,000 and coping with an increasingly stiff gear change.
Towards the back of the field there were good drives from Henton and Guerrero, the Ensign driver having been without a clutch since the fourth lap. Brian's showing was impressive, particularly since he was running 'B' compound Goodyears all round, whereas Alboreto had 'C's on the left.
Surer's performance was one of the highlights of the race, some reward for the Arrows mechanics who had toiled away with his engine change between warm-up and race. From the very start Marc had quickly made up places, and as the race went into its final phase it began to look as though he might catch Giacomelli for sixth. Poor Bruno had struggled with his car for most of the afternoon, its poor handling, its offside skirt trailing behind...
Into the last few laps, then, and the picture seemed set, but on lap 37 there was no Watson. His Mclaren was off the road at the Ostkurve, driver unhurt but immensely disappointed. "I wasn't pushing hard," he said. "Running third behind two turbos was as much as I could have hoped for, and I was just cruising..." The car's right front suspension had failed, and the wheel curled up over the nose. Four certain points were gone, four points that could prove crucial in a few weeks.
Tambay rolled off the pace towards the end, knowing that his lead was secure. It was a superb performance, in which he achieved everything possible for himself, the car, the day. Early in the race he dealt with the Renaults, and when Piquet retired he was unassailable. He took the Ferrari out to a 20-second lead, then concentrated on staying put, keeping the tyres together, not taking any risks with fuel. More than anything else, he gave Ferrari a victory when they most needed it.
"Just once I missed a gear change, and my heart skipped a beat! I wondered for a while if I had damaged the engine, but it was perfect. The car was magnificent throughout. No problems with anything." Most people were delighted to see victory for this most charming of men. As he climbed from the car there were emotional scenes as the mechanics rushed to embrace him. Tears of joy after despair the day before. On the rostrum Patrick squirted Moet et Chandon, and waved an Italian flag, which went down a bundle with the tifosi. On Tambay rest their hopes for the balance of the season.
A charging John Watson should have been on the podium but suspension failure intervened © LAT
Arnoux thought he might have given Patrick more of a fight without severe tyre vibration through the second half of the race, his Michelins having picked rubber from the track surface, putting them out of balance. For all that, though, he was happy enough with six points. He is now only six behind Prost.
It was far from an easy race for Rosberg, with his engine and gear change problems, but the Williams made it home for third place, ahead of Alboreto, who had tyre problems on the Tyrrell and believed that, without them, he would have caught Keke. Giacomelli did the right thing by staying out when his skirt began to come away, and was rewarded with his first points of the season. And Surer got a rapturous reception from the Swiss contingent for his excellent drive through the field to sixth.
As a race, the German Grand Prix was very poor, but it is always a pleasure to see a new winner, to have a disagreeable weekend finish on an accordant note. From his hospital bed on Sunday morning Didier Pironi said that, yes, of course he wanted Tambay to race - and to win. Sadly the Frenchman's world xhampionship dream is over now. For Ferrari it was a weekend of motor racing in extremis, of victory and of tragedy. That alone will stick in the mind.
To continue reading this feature, subscribe to Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus subscription includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.