Legendary Races Week: 1985 European Grand Prix

Nigel Mansell took his first F1 victory after 72 starts and Alain Prost celebrated his first F1 world championship on a track that was not supposed to hold a Grand Prix that year.

Brand Hatch has come to be an iconic motorsport venue over the years. It has held 14 Grand Prix, but it was not meant to be the place that the European GP would be held, back in 1985.

The provisional calendar of that season had New York and Rome as the new locations in the F1 championship. However, both were utterly ill-prepared, and John Webb stepped in and offered the Brands Hatch circuit as the venue of the European GP, the 14th round of 1985 Formula One World Championship.

The track was familiar to all the teams and drivers, as it was a popular testing venue back in the day.

For a race that was not scheduled to be held that year, it proved to be a landmark. However, it is necessary to take a step back and see why this Grand Prix has so much importance in the history of the sport.

The 1985 F1 season was a fight between McLaren and Ferrari, or Alain Prost and Michele Alboreto, if you prefer. Alboreto had the early lead in the championship, but after the first few rounds, Prost and his McLaren MP4/2B made a resurgence that saw the Frenchman (who lost the previous two titles by minuscule margins) get back on his feet, with the fate of the world championship in his hands. Couple that with the unreliability of the Ferrari 156/85, and it all was in favor of ‘the Professor’.

Coming to Brands Hatch, Prost needed to score two more points than Alboreto to be crowned champion, three rounds before the end of the year. He was determined to do just that, even without the help of Niki Lauda behind the wheel of the other McLaren. The Austrian had broken his wrist during practice in Belgium and was ruled out of the event early on.

In qualifying, Ayrton Senna took his sixth pole position of the year, with the very fast on one-lap pace of the Lotus 97T. Nelson Piquet came in second, 0.3 seconds behind his compatriot, with championship rivals Prost and Alboreto in 6th and 15th place respectively.

Senna held on his position at the start, keeping his head cool over the next few laps, until lap 13.

Keke Rosberg had managed to squeeze past 2nd, having started 4th, and he had set his sights on 1st place. The Finn made a desperate lunge down the inside of the leading Lotus, before the Bottom Straight, which got him in trouble, as he span onto the grass. To this day, he will argue that it was Senna’s fault.

Piquet was a victim of that clash, too, as he hit the Willaims on the rear left, leaving him out the race, and Rosberg with a puncture.

The 1982 champion went straight into the pits, and after a 20 second stop, he rejoined, crucially, just ahead of Senna and Nigel Mansell.

Let’s just pause it there for a moment. At the time, Mansell was a 32-year-old driver with a respectable four-year stint at Lotus to his name, before he moved to Williams-Honda to partner Rosberg. However, he was still waiting for his breakthrough and first ever win in Formula 1. Even though he had driven some cars with winning potential, the Brit could not capitalise on his potential – yet.

So, the motorsport gods handed him a golden opportunity. Rosberg, furious with Senna after their incident, decided to hold him off as much as he could in the twisty Brands Hatch layout, giving Mansell some time to catch the Brazilian and pass him.

Sure enough, he did. Mansell got past the Lotus and then his teammate, who in return tried to stall Senna a little bit more, to give Mansell a further advantage.

By Jerry Lewis-Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43891399

Even though the drama of the first-place battle was delightful to watch, there was a championship on the line, too. Prost, having had a poor start, made his way up through the order, driving on the edge lap after lap. His work was made easier when Alboreto was forced to retire with a failure in the turbo on the 13th lap. Memorably, he decided to drive his burning car right down the pit lane, unbuckle his belts and stand up as he coasted along to the Ferrari pits. He was fuming – literally and metaphorically.

Prost continued to push forward. When Stefan Johansson in the other Ferrari suffered electrical problems, the Frenchman was promoted 4th, having passed Elio de Angelis for 5th some laps before. With Alboreto out of the picture, a fifth-place finish would be enough to secure the title.

Shortly after, he conceded fourth place to Rosberg without a fight to ensure he would finish the race. It was such choices that earned him the nickname of ‘the Professor’.

At the front of the pack, Mansell drove an excellent race and cruised to his first Formula 1 victory, after 72 starts. Ayrton Senna finished second, with Keke Rosberg rounding up the podium.

Fourth was Alain Prost, the newly crown world champion. One year after he lost the title to Lauda by just half a point, the Frenchman didn’t put a foot wrong and he took the 1985 championship, whilst also helping McLaren to take its third ever Constructors’ Championship.

Brands Hatch would host the British GP the following year, which was the last time the iconic circuit held an F1 race.

That 1985 edition, though, was memorable and hugely significant to the history of this sport.

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