Grand Prix Classic

1984 Season Preview

The new flat-bottom regulations had provided a thrilling season in 1983, with cars able to reach almost the same speeds they had in 1982 by the end of the year, but without rock-hard suspension and lurid accidents.

However, the changes to the regulations in 1984 had drawn a much more hostile response from drivers and teams. Fuel would be limited to 220 litres per race, with no refuelling pitstops permitted. Most involved with the sport complained that this would turn Grand Prix into an economy run, as drivers ran with one eye on the fuel gauge, and would also favour the larger teams who could afford hugely expensive electronic or water fuel injection systems.

Expected contenders for wins were led by reigning champion Nelson Piquet's Brabham-BMW. Ferrari had an eye on adding the drivers' title to their consecutive Constructors' Cups for either Rene Arnoux or new signing Michele Alboreto. After an eventually traumatic 1983, Renault would be trying to rebuild with new signings Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick.

McLaren-TAG, Williams-Honda and Lotus-Renault had also shown their intentions towards the end of the season with strong performances, and were expecting more sustained success for what would be their first full-turbo seasons. Alfa Romeo had signed a strong driver line-up of Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever, while their former driver Andrea de Cesaris would drive the first turbo Ligier.

Dark horses would be Toleman, with a promising line-up of Johnny Cecotto and British F3 champion Ayrton Senna and momentum coming from a successful finish to the season. With Arrows set to switch to BMW power as soon as a new chassis was ready and the RAM and Spirit teams both finding customer deals with Hart, Tyrrell would be the only team planning to use Cosworth's DFY V8 engine for the whole season, though its' markedly better fuel consumption gave the team some hope on slower circuits.

Departures from the series include the Theodore team, who are instead planning to establish themselves in Indycars, along with Bruno Giacomelli. Roberto Guerrero and Raul Boesel will also be trying to make a mark in the series, while John Watson, Stefan Johansson, Jean-Pierre Jarier and Kenny Acheson were among those unable to find drives.

The provisional 16-date calendar features the return of the Spanish Grand Prix, to be held on a street circuit at the Benidorm resort of Fuengirola, and a third round in America - the Dallas Grand Prix, to be held at another street circuit, Fair Park. The mooted New York street race has disappeared, while Zolder, Dijon and Brands Hatch regain the Belgian, French and British Grand Prix respectively. The European Grand Prix is retained, and will take place at the new shorter Nürburgring circuit.

Reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet will be driving the new Brabham BT53, heavily based on the highly successful BT52B. With such continuity, he starts the season as favourite for the title. The second Brabham seat was one of the most contested over the off-season - John Watson was considered but rejected by sponsor Parmalat; who wanted an Italian or a South American; Roberto Guerrero seemed the favourite, but suffered sponsorship trouble and dropped out. Mauro Baldi, Pierluigi Martini, Ayrton Senna, Johnny Cecotto and Ivan Capelli all tried out for the seat, but Brabham have instead plumped for a novel option. Teo Fabi will drive the bulk of the races in addition to his commitments to Dick Forsythe's team in Indycars. When the latter clashes with Grand Prix, the seat will be taken by his younger brother Corrado Fabi (who tested for the team before the 1983 season).

Back to basics for Ken Tyrrell. With Benetton following Michele Alboreto out the door and Danny Sullivan returning to Indycar racing, the team has no sponsors. British F3 runner-up Martin Brundle has signed as team-leader, with Porsche endurance starlet Stefan Bellof taking the second seat after the team couldn't meet the salary demands of John Watson or Emerson Fittipaldi. Bellof's retainer will be paid by his sportscar sponsor Rothmans, and he will continue to drive their Porsches as a priority. When these obligations clash with Grand Prix, Danny Sullivan will take over the car. Having failed to find a turbo supplier, Tyrrell will be the only team campaigning the DFV-derived Cosworth DFY for all of 1984, and continue with the 013 chassis introduced towards the end of 1983.

Williams would be continuing with the promising Honda V6-powered FW09 seen at Kyalami in October. Keke Rosberg is hoping that after a year stuck in a relatively uncompetitive DFV-powered chassis he would be challenging for regular honours with a turbo, while Jacques Laffite will be hoping for a less mixed year in a car hopefully more compatible with his unique driving style.

Following on from their successful showing at Kyalami, McLaren will start the season with John Barnard's latest MP4 evolution, the MP4/2, and TAG's rapidly improving Porsche-built V6 turbo engine. Joining Niki Lauda as equal number 1 driver would be Alain Prost, avaliable for a knock-down price after his shock sacking by Renault in the off-season, making for a very potent package.

After a dire 1983 when the team had only managed three starts, RAM have regrouped for 1984. Funding from Skoal Bandit has improved finances, with Dave Kelly pening the new RAM 02. The team broke all remaining ties with March, and signed a deal with Brian Hart for turbo engines. F2 and sportscar driver Philippe Alliot was to be the sole driver, but the team were so impressed with reigning Formula 2 champion Jonathan Palmer's ability to raise £250,000 for the seat that they decided to expand to two cars in order to accomodate the Englishman.

After a strong chassis and engine were masked by ineffective race tyres in the second half of 1983, Peter Warr negotiated Lotus out of their Pirelli contract, instead signing with Goodyear. Aside from that, much was unchanged - Gerard Ducarouge evolved the successful 94T into the 95T, while Elio de Angelis remained as team leader. The identity of the second driver was in doubt for a while, with Ayrton Senna testing for the team and John Watson negotiating terms at one point. However, Nigel Mansell had the backing of sponsor John Player Special, and was retained for another year with the team after burying the hatchet with Warr.

Despite failing to score in 1983, the off-season saw strong rumours that a second ATS would be ran, with Johnny Cecotto and Jonathan Palmer among those mentioned. However, the season would begin with just a single example of the new Gustav Brunner-designed, BMW-powered D7 chassis for Manfred Winkelhock, though the team hoped to run a second car later in the season. Brunner, however, left the team during the pre-season, with Stefan Fober taking over as chief engineer. The team also switched from Goodyear to Pirelli tyres.

Renault have spent the winter regrouping after their chastising defeat in 1983. With Alain Prost and Eddie Cheever fired, two new drivers come in the shape of Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick, who will be driving the new RE40 (designed by Michel Tetu). Testing has been encouraging (with Tambay topping the timesheets at Rio in January), but it remains to be seen whether the team has learnt from its' failure the previous season.

After spending 1983 living from race to race, Arrows at least have permanent sponsors in the shape of Barclay and Nordica for 1984. Marc Surer and Thierry Boutsen will begin the season in the Cosworth-engined A6, with the new BMW turbo powered A7 chassis to follow at the start of the European season. Their supply of BMW engines will be tuned by Swiss engineer Heini Mader.

Despite losing Derek Warwick to Renault, Toleman hope to build on their breakthrough in 1983. With Bruno Giacomelli dropped, driving duties fall to Johnny Cecotto and British F3 champion Ayrton Senna. The team will start the season with the successful TG183B, with the new TG184 to follow at the start of the European season.

Despite losing Honda's backing, Spirit have at least completed their first all-new F1 chassis, the 101 - now powered by a Hart turbo, and running on Pirelli tyres. Initially the team hoped to run Emerson Fittipaldi and well-backed F3 driver Fulvio Ballabio, but the former was unimpressed after testing the car and the latter failed to land a superlicence, taking his Disney money with him. Instead, Mauro Baldi has raised the sponsorship to start the season with the team in a single Spirit, with further participation depending on his ability to raise further backing.

Euroracing continue to run Alfa Romeo's Formula 1 team. Andrea de Cesaris and Mauro Baldi were sacked after the end of 1983, with Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever signed in their stead. The team have also ended their relationship with Marlboro Italia, with Benetton instead taking over as main sponsor, and switched from Michelin to Goodyear rubber. Alfa Romeo's turbocharged V8 will be in the back of the new 184T chassis, designed by Luigi Marmiroli - who will be assisted by new arrival Gustav Brunner.

Osella make the transition to turbo power, with Alfa Romeo V8 engines and a new FA1F chassis. Designed by Tony Southgate, the new car was heavily based on the Alfa Romeo 183T, an example of which was loaned to Osella. For the first half of the season practical reasonsm will restrict the team to a single entry for Piercarlo Ghinzani, though they hope to enter a second car for official test driver and F2 Pau winner Jo Gartner in the second half of the year. The team were dropped by Michelin, instead returning to Pirelli.

With a Renault turbo finally avaliable, the Ligier team will hope to bounce back from a dreadful 1983 thanks to the new JS23. Jean-Pierre Jarier has been dropped in favour of Andrea de Cesaris (after unsuccessful negotiations with Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann), while European F3 graduate Francois Hesnault will take the second car thanks to his Elf connections (the fuel giant's Antac subsidiary are one of Ligier's sponsors for 1984). An interesting factor for 1984 is that while Lotus' Renault contract precludes them from running on Michelin tyres, Guy Ligier was able to bring political pressure to bear so his cars can remain on the French rubber for the 1984 season.

Ferrari will be using the new 126C4 chassis from the start of the season. The car is a low-line derivative of the 126C3, with the engine cover notably lower. After a slow start to his Ferrari career, Rene Arnoux did enough to convince management he deserved to be retained for 1984 alongside new signing Michele Alboreto, though many onlookers believe the team may miss the development skills of the fired Patrick Tambay. Enzo Ferrari has reiterated that a third car will be avaliable for Didier Pironi as soon as the Frenchman regains fitness.