1985: Rosberg's lap of the gods
Spots of rain were beginning to come down as Keke hurtled up to Woodcote. It seemed we were in for yet another heavy shower, and this was final qualifying. Probably, therefore, it had to be this lap or never. He had been fastest man throughout, and this looked to be the last chance of a 160mph lap at Silverstone. Next time they come here the cars will perhaps be slower. Almost certainly the track will be changed
Brake at the very latest, crank over the wheel in that familiar darty style - and Keke is really on it. Through the middle part of the Woodcote chicane he is all over the place, bouncing over the kerb. Not really like him at all...
Now he eases off, cruises - relatively - through Copse. And we wait - "One sixty! It's been done at last. Keke Rosberg... one minute five point nine six seven!" So he had done it, despite sliding wide at the chicane. Perhaps those drops of rain - coming down harder by now - had made it a bit slippery. Or maybe the qualifiers - one lap if you were careful at Silverstone - had gone off?
"No, that wasn't it," he grinned. "The thing just didn't turn in, that's why I ran wide. It took me completely by surprise. I had a slow puncture on the left front! When they checked the tyre they found the pressure down to 12psi, and 10 minutes later it was completely flat..."
This effect of the piece of news can have had only a demoralising effect on Messrs Senna, Piquet, Prost and any other aspirants to the pole. One thing to be beaten; quite another when the man doesn't need four tyres to do it.
The shower, heavy for five minutes, did its best to ruin that last session, but there was a strong breeze, and soon the sun lent a hand. By 1.40pm they began venturing out again, but it seemed unlikely that anyone would go quicker. Wrong.
"It did dry out pretty well," Keke said. "We knew we'd done a five-nine with the tyre problem, so it seemed logical that if all was right with the second set we should be able to improve. I saw that Nelson, Senna and so on were going out with their second sets in the last 10 minutes and decided to give it a go..."
From the grandstands there was a rumble of excitement when Piquet, troubled on the first day, suddenly flew into contention with a six-two. Out went Rosberg, right at the end.
"I still hadn't had a really good lap. On Friday my quallies were gone before the chicane, and I lost maybe a second through there. We made set-up changes for Saturday, and then they lasted the whole lap - but of course I'd had the slow puncture on my first run."
On Friday - when he had also been quickest, incidentally - Keke had brought the crowd to its feet with his quick lap, crossing the line with the car pointing other than forwards. The rears had been finished. Now they held, and the result was a stunning 1m05.591s, for an average of 160.925mph. Piquet's time remained second fastest, so Rosberg was on the pole by going on seven-tenths. Had the track been completely dry?
"No," he replied, "it wasn't. There was still damp at Stowe, but that didn't matter too much because by there the tyres were hot from working hard. More of a hot from working hard. More of a problem were Copse and Becketts earier in the lap. I'm happy to be on pole again, of course, but it's just for fun really, you know. It doesn't mean a lot here - unless it rains tomorrow. This is the last place in the world you want a wet race - it's so quick that the visibility is terrible."
If the man on the Beeb were to be taken seriously, there was some considerable chance of a wet race, but the worthy Keijo appears to cope all right with such conditions. Remember Monaco a couple of years ago? And did not he win the International Trophy in 1978 - driving a Theodore - while all the aces parked against the fence?
Williams-Honda at the front, then, for the second time in a fortnight. But the conditions at Silverstone could hardly have been more different from Ricard. "Last time we were here," Patrick Tambay muttered, "it was 'eatwave. Now it's winter..."
The rain on Friday morning, in fact, threatened to turn the day into total farce. Visibility was so bad that the airstrip was closed. That meant no use of the medical helicopter - and that meant no practice. All morning people sat around. "Is it the helicopter that's the problem?" whispered one cynical team manager. "Or is that Pirelli have forgotten to bring any wets?" Yes, there was much badinage, all good natured, of course.
Eventually they announced that the full 90-minute unofficial session had been cancelled, and would be replaced by an untimed half-hour, beginning at 1.45PM. Qualifying would start at four.
For a variety of reasons, the new arrangement didn't sit too well with some of the team owners and managers who argued, reasonably enough, that it was unfair to the mechanics - and also to the drivers, who would be obliged to go for it after the lower echelons had dropped oil etc. Bernie Ecclestone and Peter Warr strode purposefully to the Stewards' room, and within seconds the PA system told of a new 'revised schedule'. Twenty minutes' untimed, a ten-minute (!) break, then qualifying at 2.15. Then, of course, there were team managers who didn't like that...
Same for everyone. That was the fact of the matter - except that it wasn't. In the damp unofficial session, for example, McLaren, Lotus and Renault decided they needed bigger turbos, but there was insufficient time for the mechanics to change them on both cars. Hence, Tambay, Senna and Prost got them; Lauda, de Angelis and Warwick didn't.
Keke - who else this weekend? - set the best time in the unofficial 20 minutes, getting down to 1m17.055s on a track which was beginning to dry. De Angelis, Surer and Johansson were next up (Stefan magnificently crossed up at Woodcote every lap!), but what did you learn in 20 minutes - save that it was l5 too long for Euroracing, Patrese's Alfa blowing a turbo spectacularly in front of the pits.
Saturday's schedules were as normal, but the weather swerved from sun to rain all through the day. By the end of it, as we said, Piquet had pulled the Brabham-BMW up to second on the grid. He had been only 11th fastest on the difficult first day, pulling off at Abbey in the qualifying car with a turbo fire and consequently having to take the race car for his second run.
"The engine was fantastic," he commented on Saturday, "but really through the fast corners here my car is not very good. Tyres? Not bad, but I think we need a hot day tomorrow to be competitive. If it's cold - or, worse, if it rains - we could be in problems."
Had the quick lap-2.7 seconds faster than Friday's best - been straightforward?
"Not exactly. The track was quite dry when I made my run, but I had to get around Patrese."
Where? "At Stowe - on the outside..."
Nelson, most agreed, was something of a wild card in this race. Of the true front runners, he alone was on Pirellis. A few weeks ago that would have ruled him out of contention, but then came Ricard. It looked unlikely, though, that he would get the heat he wanted.
When Prost last tested here he lapped without apparent effort in 1m06.80s on Goodyear As, forecasting at the time that a big boost car - not his McLaren-TAG, he stressed-would get round in a low five, maybe even a high four. And perhaps, given two straightforward days, that would have come to be. The weather took care of it.
On Friday, therefore, he was gratified -and surprised-to find himself second fastest to Rosberg. Given the abbreviated untimed session he, like everyone else, made his first qualifying run on soft race tyres, wanting to learn a little more about the day before going with qualifiers. And his second run produced a time of 1m06.308s.
It was to stand as his best. On Saturday afternoon he found the T-car (in qualifying trim, with bigger turbos) down on power. Then the rain arrived, and faced with having to run the race car (small turbos) for a second run, he decided not to bother. He wasn't going to improve.
For once Alain was unhappy with his car's handling in race trim, traditionally McLaren's strong suit. "I can't explain it," he said. "In testing we had it perfect, but this weekend it just doesn't feel nice - particularly on full tanks. We have to do some thinking before the warm-up."
Lauda echoed his team-mate: "Nothing like as good as we were in Ricard." The World Champion, only 10th on the grid, did not have a happy time in practice, being obliged to qualify on the first day without the bigger KKKs. That session, though, brought him his best time. In the final one he found his engine almost a thousand revs down, and also managed to get badly baulked. By whom? Why, Patrese, of course.
Before it all started, most people's favourite for pole position was Senna's Lotus-Renault, but several problems conspired to keep him down in fourth. "I had engine problems with the qualifying car," Ayrton said on Friday, "so I had to use the other one, which had an EF15 engine in it - not good for qualifying because it won't take as much boost as the EF4. What else? Well, the brakes were a problem. The fronts were locking, and the rears seemed not to work at all. I ran with Cs on the left, qualifiers on the right, when I set by best time, and I had a big slide on someone's oil at Woodcote..."
Quite an adventure, all told. But Senna still spoke in terms of a five-three on Saturday - "if I get a proper run." He didn't. He was fastest in Saturday's untimed session, but in the afternoon fuel feed problems kept him from improving. "Pity, because today, the handling was fantastic. On my first run the engine actually cut out at Woodcote, and the left rear tyre was gone before the end of the lap."
And the second run?
"I was blocked by the same guy at Club and at Woodcote ..."
No, you're wrong. It wasn't Patrese this time. It was de Cesaris...
De Angelis was never close to Senna's pace. The rushed schedule on Friday meant that there was no time to fit big Garretts to his engine, and he was more than a second from Ayrton. He did have the appropriate turbos for Saturday, but guessed wrong about gear ratios to go with them.
"I was slow through the chicane because the third gear I had in was too long. Cost maybe a second there. My second run was after the rain, and Stowe was still slippery when I was out." He qualified with his Friday time, therefore, and dropped from fifth to eighth.
The man in fifth spot was a hero. Nigel Mansell and Keke Rosberg are not bosom buddies but Keke praised his team-mate to the skies after the last session. "Fantastic. After the Ricard accident he can't be totally confident yet, and I think a qualifying performance like that is absolutely magnificent."
It was. On Thursday Nigel underwent a full medical check by Professor Watkins at the London Hospital, and was afterwards pronounced fit. Being fit and feeling great, however, are not necessarily the same thing: it was an act of great courage even to drive at Silverstone, but Mansell is as tough as they come and wasn't about to miss his home Grand Prix.
Too, Frank Williams announced that he had taken up his option on Nigel for 1986, and that can only have helped his confidence, reduced the pressure on him a little.
On Friday he chose not to run qualifiers, sticking instead with Cs. He, more than anyone, could have used a regular morning session in which to play himself in again. Like Rosberg the same day, Nigel had clutch problems (his exploding under the Daily Express bridge), but he finished up a laudable 12th. Then, on Saturday, came that remarkable 1m06.675s.
In light of the Ricard accident, the blow on the head and resultant concussion, easily overlooked was the fact that his hand was still strapped up following the Detroit shunt! All in all, Nigel must have psyched himself wonderfully to produce that lap, and fully deserved the wild applause from the stands.
Mansell's performance pushed Alboreto's Ferrari down to sixth. And, in truth, the World Championship leader was dismayed by his car during the qualifying days. On horsepower (whisper it) Ferrari are not on a par with BMW and Honda at present, and neither did they look great through Silverstone's fast swerves.
"Yes, I'm disappointed," Michele said. "And a bit worried. We were slow in Ricard, and only a bit better here. When we tested we had too much understeer, like in France. Now we come back for the race, and the problem is oversteer!"
Johansson, 11th, had the same problem, only more so. "I can't understand it," he said. "Maybe the wind is blowing from a different direction, something like that. However, it doesn't worry me as much as the understeer at Ricard."
On Saturday both Ferraris ran with bigger wings, which took care of the oversteer - but made them slow in a straight line. "That's definitely where we lost today," Stefan remarked. "In the race, though, I feel we'll probably be OK. The first run was awkward today. To get the engine fully warm I had to do two warm-up laps on my qualifiers, and on my quick lap they blistered."
Seventh was something of a surprise. We are not accustomed to seeing a Ligier that far up, but de Cesaris improved remarkably in the final session. Both he and Laffite had been stuck with small turbos on the first day, but Saturday was trouble-free. Andrea was pleased with the Pirelli qualifiers, but had his worries about the longevity of the soft race tyres. "Unless it's very cold," he commented. "I'll stick with the hard ones." Laffite, as ever sauntering in practice, was 16th.
Through the chicance the Toleman-Hart looked at least as quick as any other car out there, and Teo Fabi was delighted with it. Through testing he had always been on the pace, and on Friday was sixth fastest. "With a BMW engine," he told the Italian journalists, "I would be easily on pole here," which seemed somewhat ungracious to Brian Hart. Sixth, after all, was considerably higher than he usually qualified at Brabham, when he did have a BMW engine...
By Saturday afternoon, unfortunately, the Toleman had fallen back to ninth. The mechanics were changing gear ratios when the timed session started, and by the time the work was finished so, too, was the dry weather. Teo did go out later, when conditions were good enough for Keke's pole lap, but did not improve.
Renault, for the first time, had two RE6OBs available, and Warwick and Tambay qualified them just two-thousandths of a second apart - albeit only in 12th and 13th places. On Friday Derek was quite optimistic. "I drove the car briefly at Donington yesterday morning, and it really does feel different, like a new car altogether."
And was it better?
"Yes, for sure. In actual fact it feels very nice in the really fast corners, not so nice in the slower ones. We still have a turn-in problem, but we're getting somewhere."
By Saturday morning his mood had changed. "Undriveable this morning. I mean, I couldn't get through Maggotts or Abbey flat, so that tells you."
Patrick said the same. "Yesterday we had a problem with the left rear tyre trailing - which just ruined the inside shoulder. So overnight we took off some camber, and that must be the problem this morning. We'll change it for this afternoon. I need to do something about my time. Yesterday I blew a turbo at Stowe after four laps, before I'd got out on qualifiers. And there I had to stay because the marshals wouldn't let me back..."
Rumours gather strength that M. Besse's well-honed axe is hovering over the Regie's Fl team, that only good results - and soon - will strengthen his hold on it. And in all, the faces in the Renault pit told their own story.
At Euroracing the impression was the same. In Italy they have been suggesting for a while that Alfa Romeo will not continue with Gianpaulo Pavanello's outfit next year, and as things stand that would be a loss to neither party. Silverstone was another untidy mish-mash of turbo failures, one driver using another's to qualify. It was much as usual, in fact, with no sense of order in evidence.
"We have a new front suspension here," Cheever absently remarked, "and we're a bit lost with it. It's not been tested..." Even Eddie's sense of urgen-cy appears to have wilted, and who can be surprised? He qualified down in 22nd after every kind of engine problem, while Patrese was 14th, slightly up on Marc Surer, whose Brabham-BMW suffered rear wheel bearing failures on each of the practice days. The Swiss's testing time three weeks ago would have qualified him seventh.
As usual Gerhard Berger, 17th, was the quicker of the Arrows men in qualifying, two places higher than Thierry Boutsen, but the A8s were off the pace at Silverstone, actually split on the grid by Manfred Winkelhock's RAM-Hart.
In recent weeks John Macdonald has frequently alluded to his team's money problems, suggesting that it might short-ly have to quit. At Silverstone, however, his sponsor's PR man put out a very huffy press release to the contrary, so I will comment no further on the matter. The RAMs were at Silverstone, with Philippe Alliot's second car in 21st place on the grid.
"I'm starting to get the hang of it, I think," Martin Brundle said of the Tyrrell-Renault, "but basically we're still short of testing time. The car has one fundamental fault at present. It gets into a corner nicely, then becomes a bit uncertain. We cannot get the power down properly, which is a bit of a shame when we've got 900bhp or whatever it is. It has a tendency to wander when you've got the power hard on."
On Friday afternoon Brundle spun at the exit of the Woodcote chicane, catching it very neatly and keeping the engine alive. "We had too much front wing, I think, and the car sort of pivoted around its nose. I did know what was happening, believe it or not! For the last part of the spin, anyway..."
He qualified 20th, with Stefan Bellof - perhaps a little detuned in the only Cosworth car at Silverstone - 26th and last. The German's best lap was nearly three seconds off a 1983 Tyrrell time at Silverstone, and would not have qualified him two years ago. Simply, there were many Cosworth cars around then, and there were tyres to suit. Stefan, with 'turbo' rubber, could not work any heat into his Goodyears.
Pierluigi Martini, 23rd in the Minardi-Moderni, managed to distinguish himself at Silverstone by parking on the infield- at the apex of Copse. The device had blown up at the exit of Woodcote. Having alighted, the Italian thoughtfully removed his steering wheel and took it back to the pits with him, making it impossible for the marshals to shift the car to a safe spot.
This was Saturday morning, and practice had to be stopped. Later Derek Ongaro advised Martini that he shouldn't behave similarly in the future...
The Minardi was 23rd on the grid, immediately in front of Palmer's Zakspeed, which would have been much higher without constant engine prob-lems. Sharing the back row with Bellof was the hapless Ghinzani, whose Osella was in no state to run in the final session at all.
Such is the hole in Enzo Osella's pocket that he must find 'a driver with money' if the team is to continue. Unfortunately Piercarlo has only his underrated talent to offer. He will not be in the car in Germany, and perhaps he won't much mind.
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A JYS driving lesson - Au revoir, Kyalami
1985: Rosberg's lap of the gods
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