Fuel if you think it’s over: When Senna and Prost paid the price

The 1985 San Marino Grand Prix is part of Formula 1 folklore, with three different leaders in the last five laps – none of whom actually won!

Imola was renowned for being tough on fuel consumption, and this was proved a year earlier when Elio de Angelis was one of three cars to run dry, although he still managed to salvage a podium finish. This year, he was determined to play a cannier game.

His Lotus-Renault teammate was the great Ayrton Senna, who was fresh off his fantastic first Grand Prix victory, at a rain-soaked Estoril circuit. Senna was buoyant, and declared: “My car is good, there has been an improvement since Portugal.” He had suffered heartbreak at Imola 12 months earlier, the ’84 San Marino GP being the only race he ever failed to qualify for, due to a tyre dispute between his team and Pirelli, and an engine problem when it mattered.

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault, on the grid

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault, on the grid

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Senna topped both days of qualifying in ’85 to claim pole position, by a mere 0.027s quicker than the Williams-Honda of Keke Rosberg, but warned: “Pole isn't so important here at Imola than at some other tracks. It will be a long hard race; hard on brakes and fuel consumption.”

De Angelis lined up third, ahead of Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari, an impressively rapid Thierry Boutsen (Arrows-BMW) and Alain Prost (McLaren-TAG).

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 97T Renault

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 97T Renault

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/2B

Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/2B

Photo by: Sutton Images

The Formula 1 rules of the day were for 1.5-litre turbocharged engines that had the capacity to be the most powerful – and most thirsty – the sport has ever seen. There was a strict fuel limit of 220 litres, however, so teams had to factor their gas useage into race strategy. 

Warm-up at Imola had been held in wet conditions, which had compromised the teams’ running in race specifications, so the Grand Prix would be a venture into the unknown for all involved.

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault leads

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault leads

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault leads Michele Alboreto, Ferrari 156/85

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T Renault leads Michele Alboreto, Ferrari 156/85

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Senna darted off into the lead on raceday, setting a high tempo for the others to follow. Indeed, he dominated the race, despite a mid-race attack from Prost, and was over 10s clear in the lead when his car began to suffer fuel starvation, and he was forced to pull over on the run to Tosa with four laps remaining. Senna said: “It was a pity because it had been a good race. Prost was faster than me on the straight, but other than that we were in good shape.”

That promoted Ferrari’s Stefan Johansson into the lead, sending the tifosi into raptures as he’d charged up from 15th on the grid in his second start for the Scuderia. Alas, he suffered an electronic issue which gave a false fuel reading, and he too ground to a halt after one glorious lap at the front.

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 97T Renault, leads Stefan Johansson, Ferrari 156/85

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 97T Renault, leads Stefan Johansson, Ferrari 156/85

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Stefan Johansson, Ferrari 156/85, in scrutineering

Stefan Johansson, Ferrari 156/85, in scrutineering

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Johansson’s demise handed the lead to Prost, who was clearly saving fuel and short shifting around the final laps to claim an easy victory – or so he thought! Prost’s car ran out of fuel at Variante Alta on the slowing-down lap, so it appeared he had eked out his fuel to perfection. But his McLaren MP4/2B TAG Porsche was found to be 2kg under the minimum weight limit (including 2kg tolerance) in post-race scrutineering.

Prost had thumbed a lift home from Patrick Tambay, sitting on the Renault's sidepod, and duly took his place on the podium before the scrutineers made their discovery that would disqualify the winner. With Prost excluded, de Angelis inherited the victory – although it took two hours (and multiple sets of scales) for the stewards to persuade McLaren boss Ron Dennis that Prost’s car was too light to be legal.

However, de Angelis – who had crossed the line over 38s behind Prost – didn’t take all the credit for making his fuel last until the end. “The engine decided to turn the boost down itself, that probably helped me finish," he admitted. "Later I turned it up and it was good, but in the end I had a brake fire and no brakes at all for the last three laps.”

Podium: Second placed Elio De Angelis, Lotus, race winner Alain Prost, McLaren, third placed Thierry Boutsen, Arrows

Podium: Second placed Elio De Angelis, Lotus, race winner Alain Prost, McLaren, third placed Thierry Boutsen, Arrows

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Thierry Boutsen, Arrows A8 BMW

Thierry Boutsen, Arrows A8 BMW

Photo by: Motorsport Images

It would be de Angelis’s final F1 win, albeit one where he didn’t actually lead a lap! Boutsen was classified second, despite running out of fuel and pushing his car across the finish line, one lap down!

Tambay finished third, just failing to pip Boutsen’s leg-powered Arrows, ahead of reigning world champion Niki Lauda, who’d been struggling with the gearbox of his McLaren, Nigel Mansell (Williams) and Johansson, who was the first of five other cars to run out of fuel that didn’t see the chequered flag.

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 97T Renault

Elio de Angelis, Lotus 97T Renault

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Patrick Tambay, Renault RE60

Patrick Tambay, Renault RE60

Photo by: Motorsport Images

shares
comments
Why Gasly needs more of Leclerc's steel

Previous article

Why Gasly needs more of Leclerc's steel

Next article

F1 must aim for IndyCar levels of competitiveness, says Brown

F1 must aim for IndyCar levels of competitiveness, says Brown
Load comments
The details that boosted Verstappen and held back Hamilton in Austin Prime

The details that boosted Verstappen and held back Hamilton in Austin

As the 2021 Formula 1 title battle winds towards its climax, the United States GP added another thrilling act in the Lewis Hamilton-Max Verstappen battle. Although Hamilton aced the start, Verstappen and Red Bull took the initiative with strategy and were richly rewarded, despite Mercedes' best efforts as the race went down to the wire

Formula 1
Oct 25, 2021
US Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

US Grand Prix Driver Ratings

On a baking hot afternoon in Texas, Formula 1 drivers were tested to their limits. As the pressure on the title contending squads reaches an ever-greater level of intensity, the foremost challengers again showed their class, but were outshone by a standout drive from the upper midfield

Formula 1
Oct 25, 2021
The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert Prime

The 10 greatest drives of lost legend Jo Siffert

It's 50 years since Jo Siffert was killed in his prime at Brands Hatch. The Swiss scored just two world championship wins in a Formula 1 career spent largely with privateer teams, but showed on numerous occasions in single-seaters and in sportscars with Porsche that he could beat any of the best drivers of his era given the right equipment.

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
Why a misunderstood Kimi Raikkonen will thrive in retirement Prime

Why a misunderstood Kimi Raikkonen will thrive in retirement

Three years on from Kimi Raikkonen's last Grand Prix victory at Austin, he is now six races away from ending the longest Formula 1 career in history. His friend and former Ice1 Racing rally team PR man Anthony Peacock explains why there’s nobody quite like the 2007 world champion and why F1 will miss him (but he won’t miss it).

Formula 1
Oct 24, 2021
How Verstappen has become F1 champion material Prime

How Verstappen has become F1 champion material

As Red Bull and Honda go all-out for victory in the Japanese engine manufacturer’s last season of its latest Formula 1 dalliance, Max Verstappen finds himself thrust into a compelling title fight with Lewis Hamilton. He told OLEG KARPOV about his evolution into a world championship contender and why Red Bull's no compromise ethos suits him down to the ground

Formula 1
Oct 23, 2021
Why long-run times should please Red Bull in Austin F1 battle Prime

Why long-run times should please Red Bull in Austin F1 battle

Mercedes has been on a roll of late in the ultra-tight fight to win the 2021 Formula 1 world championship. It started off well in practice at Austin for this weekend’s US Grand Prix, but Red Bull got closer as Friday unfolded and even seemed to find an edge in one critical area of what seems set to be set to be another close contest.

Formula 1
Oct 23, 2021
The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen Prime

The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen

The 2021 Formula 1 title battle is finely poised with six races remaining, as just six points separate championship leader Max Verstappen from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. In such a closely-fought season, the outcome could hinge on several small factors playing the way of Red Bull or Mercedes

Formula 1
Oct 22, 2021
Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed? Prime

Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed?

Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll is determined to make the group a billion-dollar business. MARK GALLAGHER analyses his latest play – bringing former McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh into the fold

Formula 1
Oct 22, 2021