Nigel Mansell, Williams, Osterreichring, 1986

Mansell retirement revives Prost’s title chances

1986 Austrian Grand Prix flashbackPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

The 1986 drivers’ championship fight had closed up behind points leader Nigel Mansell ahead of the twelfth race of the year in Austria. And a day of attrition at the Osterreichring served to make it closer still.

Stung by seeing his team mate win four out of five races at mid-season, Nelson Piquet had hit back with wins in Germany and Hungary. Ayrton Senna followed him home in both to keep his championship hopes alive.

Fourth in the points standings – but just 11 behind Mansell with 45 available over the final rounds – was Alain Prost. The reigning champion was feeling the pressure from the Williams pair, but in Austria he reaped the dividends of his tactical acumen and mechanical sympathy.

The old Osterreichring

The 1986 Austrian Grand Prix proved to be the penultimate running of the race on the mighty, high-speed configuration of the Osterreichring. The popularity of the race took an abrupt downturn that year due to factors largely beyond the promoters’ control.

Round 12 of the 1986 world championship was the seventh race in eleven weekends. That pales in comparison to today’s congested calendar, but 30 years ago teams were feeling the strain of Bernie Ecclestone’s ever-growing schedule.

So were the race promoters. Crowd sizes slumped alarmingly at the Austrian round in 1986, but this wasn’t merely down to the fact local fans had gone to the new race at the nearby Hungaroring one week earlier instead. For the first time since his gruesome accident a decade earlier, Austrian hero Niki Lauda wasn’t on the grid.

However those who turned up looking for a local driver to cheer for were not to be disappointed. Gerhard Berger planted his car on the front row of the grid, something Lauda hadn’t done since 1977. He had to give best to his team mate, however.

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Warwick’s practice scare

BMW may have announced their impending withdrawal from F1 two months earlier but their four-cylinder 1.5-litre turbos were very much the thing to have around the ultra-fast Osterreichring. On Friday Derek Warwick’s Brabham-BMW screamed through the speed trap approaching the daunting Bosch Kurve at 344kph (214mph).

He was going almost as fast when a tyre explosion pitched his car into the air just past the start/finish line. Pirelli were testing a new, narrower version of their rear tyres, on which their teams reported improved performance (which is ironic in the light of next year’s coming rules change). But after the failure all the Pirelli runners had to hand the new rubber back.

Warwick was unharmed after landing on all four wheels, smashing into a barrier, and being wrenched from the cockpit by an over-eager marshal who couldn’t wait for him to remove the steering wheel. That left Riccardo Patrese leading the Brabham charge for pole position, but just as he was on course to improve his lap time his BMW detonated causing a major fire. Even so he bagged the team’s highest starting position of the year with fourth.

Benetton claim the front row

Gerhard Berger, Benetton, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 1986
No more Lauda, but Berger claimed a front row place
That left the Benetton pair scrapping over pole position. The Italian fashion brand had taken over the Toleman team at the end of 1985 meaning development of Rory Byrne’s new car has been delayed. But by late 1986 the car was coming good and the arrival of a new rear wing in Austria proved another step forwards.

However in qualifying a misfire blunted Berger’s efforts and opened the door for his team mate Teo Fabi. The Italian excelled on high-speed circuits and had taken pole position at the Indianapolis 500 on his debut. But he had problems of his own to contend with: his radio fell into the footwell on his fastest lap and he was briefly held up by a Minardi at the final corner. Still he denied Berger a home pole by two-tenths of a second.

The only driver in the top four not powered by a BMW engine was Keke Rosberg. Despite being much happier with his car’s set-up since being freed from the strictures of designer John Barnard’s preferred, understeer-prone set-up, Rosberg had wearied of F1 and announced his plans to retire at the previous round.

The four drivers separated by just 11 points at the top of the standings occupied the next two rows. They were led by Prost, who had been hampered by an engine problem during qualifying. Engine and driveshaft problems delayed Mansell who was further compromised by being unable to use the team’s spare car, which Piquet had access to. The other Williams driver was feeling unwell but got within a tenth of Mansell’s time.

Having not qualified lower than fourth during the season until Austria, Senna could only manage eighth on the grid. The Renault turbo’s lack of top-end was only part of the reason why: Lotus had also chosen to remove some aerodynamic enhancements from Senna’s car following the threat of a protest from Williams.

Warwick shared the fifth row with Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari, ahead of the two Ligiers and Patrick Tambay in the first of the Lolas. But the second Ferrari of Stefan Johansson had suffered a torrid weekend.

Already suffering with a sore back from the bumps of the Hungaroring, Johansson was left in considerable pain after a crash on Friday in which an advertising pole pierced his car and struck his seat, dealing a heavy blow to his back. He then crashed again at the Rindt Kurve when his brake pedal went to the floor – not the first time a Ferrari had experienced such a failure in 1986.

Engine problems confined the Tyrrells to 17th and 20th place. Between them was Thierry Boutsen in the new Arrows A9 which the team was quickly discovering to be a step sideways at best. Designer Dave Waas had stepped down and Gordon Coppuck brought in while the team continued to use the old car for Christian Danner.

Alessandro Nannini’s new Minardi M/86 also separated the Tyrrells. He had begun the weekend in the old car, but team mate Andrea de Cesaris had demanded they swap when Nannini posted quicker times in the M/85B. De Cesaris lined up four places behind his team mate.

1986 Austrian Grand Prix grid

Row 1 1. Teo Fabi 1’23.549
Benetton-BMW
2. Gerhard Berger 1’23.743
Benetton-BMW
Row 2 3. Keke Rosberg 1’23.903
McLaren-TAG
4. Riccardo Patrese 1’24.044
Brabham-BMW
Row 3 5. Alain Prost 1’24.346
McLaren-TAG
6. Nigel Mansell 1’24.635
Williams-Honda
Row 4 7. Nelson Piquet 1’24.697
Williams-Honda
8. Ayrton Senna 1’25.249
Lotus-Renault
Row 5 9. Michele Alboreto 1’25.561
Ferrari
10. Derek Warwick 1’25.726
Brabham-BMW
Row 6 11. Philippe Alliot 1’25.917
Ligier-Renault
12. Rene Arnoux 1’26.312
Ligier-Renault
Row 7 13. Patrick Tambay 1’26.489
Lola-Ford
14. Stefan Johansson 1’26.646
Ferrari
Row 8 15. Johnny Dumfries 1’27.212
Lotus-Renault
16. Alan Jones 1’27.420
Lola-Ford
Row 9 17. Martin Brundle 1’28.018
Tyrrell-Renault
18. Thierry Boutsen 1’28.598
Arrows-BMW
Row 10 19. Alessandro Nannini 1’28.645
Minardi-Motori Moderni
20. Philippe Streiff 1’28.951
Tyrrell-Renault
Row 11 21. Jonathan Palmer 1’29.073
Zakspeed
22. Christian Danner 1’29.430
Arrows-BMW
Row 12 23. Andrea de Cesaris 1’29.615
Minardi-Motori Moderni
24. Huub Rothengatter 1’32.512
Zakspeed
Row 13 25. Piercarlo Ghinzani 1’33.988
Osella-Alfa Romeo
26. Allen Berg 1’36.150
Osella-Alfa Romeo

More trouble for Brabham

Brabham’s plight deepened in the morning warm-up. Warwick’s gearbox broke and caused him to over-rev the engine, giving the mechanics a long job list to complete before the race. Soon after it was complete a broken dog ring was discovered on Patrese’s car. With too little time to repair that before the race, and the crash and fire having left them short of spares, Patrese was given Warwick’s car and would be the team’s only starter.

The race was expected to be tough on tyres and fuel consumption. Tank size had been reduced to 195 litres for the 1986 season, and some teams were still struggling to get to the end without running dry.

The thirsty turbos also put the tyres under strain, a fact amplified by the Osterreiching’s many long, fast corners. Benetton took Pirelli’s hardest ‘5’ compound, Williams did likewise with Goodyear’s ‘A’s while McLaren and others on the Akron rubber opted for the soft ‘B’s. Even so many expected to need a pit stop.

1986 Austrian Grand Prix

The start was given very quickly after the field lined up and Berger out-dragged Fabi to the Hella-licht chicane. For the first time in his grand prix career he was leading a race. More than that he was doing it at home and looking like he belonged there.

Prost got away superbly from fifth but could only watch the Benettons disappear after taking over third place. The two Williams drivers maintained order as they followed him up while Rosberg slipped back. Brabham’s misery was complete as Patrese got away poorly and retired shortly afterwards.

Fabi kept his team mate in sight through the opening laps. But his car strayed across a bump, bottomed and briefly over-revved – an error which would have serious consequences. On lap 16 he drew alongside his team mate at the Bosch Kurve and moved to take the lead. But, with cruel timing, his engine cried enough and Fabi’s race was over.

Berger’s didn’t last much longer. Nine laps later he headed for the Benetton pit with a flat battery. It was changed, but it cost him four laps and ended his hopes of victory.

Assuming his place in the lead was not Prost but championship leader Mansell. Prost, who had run with minimum boost in the opening laps to save fuel and spare his tyres, had pitted on lap 20. His 13-second stop had been sluggish even by the standards of the time (it was five seconds longer than his team mate’s) as his front-right was slow to go on and rubbish was cleared from his air intakes.

Half the field had already dropped out by this point including Senna whose Lotus developed a persistent misfire. This race proved the beginning of the end for his title hopes. A left-rear suspension failure on Nannini’s Minardi pitched him off into the undergrowth and not, fortunately, one of the barriers lining the quickest corners on the track.

Mansell pitted from the lead on the 28th lap and despite a slow right-rear tyre change was stationary for two seconds less than Prost. Nonetheless he came out behind the McLaren and didn’t make inroads into it immediately. He had 20 laps to close the 11-second gap down, but a second driveshaft failure ended his race. With Piquet already parked up due to an engine failure this was the only no-score of the season for Williams.

As car after car dropped out the Ferraris came to the fore. Johansson, still in a lot of pain, was creeping his way up the order even though his luck hadn’t change. A piece of his front wing flew off at one stage, struck his crash helmet and then broke part of his rear wing, causing drag which impeded his efforts to pass Patrick Tambay. The Lola driver defended his position firmly and although Johansson eventually found a way past he had strong words for his rival in the paddock after the race.

Johansson at least benefitted from a Ferrari innovation for this race. Having been unable to repair Alboreto’s damaged front wing in Hungary they produced a new quick-change element which allowed Johansson’s broken wing to be replaced. The loose part of the rear wing eventually came away as well, allowing him to press on.

As the Ferraris took up the running behind the McLaren in the final laps it seemed victory might fall into their laps. The TAG-Porsche engines in the MP4-2Cs began to splutter, both drivers losing large amounts of time at the Hella-licht chicane. With five laps to go Rosberg’s engine coughed its last.

Prost kept his braking to a minimum, down-shifting to slow the car, yet still he feared his car wouldn’t complete 53 laps. Luckily for him the race was a lap shorter than it was, and when he accelerated out of the Rindt Kurve at the end of lap 52 he saw the chequered flag.

1986 Austrian Grand Prix result

Pos. No. Driver Car Laps Time/gap/reason
1 1 Alain Prost McLaren-TAG 52 1:21’22.531
2 27 Michele Alboreto Ferrari 51 1 lap
3 28 Stefan Johansson Ferrari 50 2 laps
4 15 Alan Jones Lola-Ford 50 2 laps
5 16 Patrick Tambay Lola-Ford 50 2 laps
6 17 Christian Danner Arrows-BMW 49 3 laps
7 20 Gerhard Berger Benetton-BMW 49 3 laps
8 29 Huub Rothengatter Zakspeed 48 4 laps
9 2 Keke Rosberg McLaren-TAG 47 5 laps
10 25 Rene Arnoux Ligier-Renault 47 5 laps
11 21 Piercarlo Ghinzani Osella-Alfa Romeo 46 6 laps
5 Nigel Mansell Williams-Honda 32 Driveshaft
6 Nelson Piquet Williams-Honda 29 Engine
18 Thierry Boutsen Arrows-BMW 25 Turbo
19 Teo Fabi Benetton-BMW 17 Engine
26 Philippe Alliot Ligier-Renault 16 Engine
24 Alessandro Nannini Minardi-Motori Moderni 13 Suspension
23 Andrea de Cesaris Minardi-Motori Moderni 13 Clutch
12 Ayrton Senna Lotus-Renault 13 Engine
3 Martin Brundle Tyrrell-Renault 12 Turbo
4 Philippe Streiff Tyrrell-Renault 10 Engine
11 Johnny Dumfries Lotus-Renault 9 Engine
14 Jonathan Palmer Zakspeed 8 Engine
22 Allen Berg Osella-Alfa Romeo 6 Electrics
7 Riccardo Patrese Brabham-BMW 2 Engine
8 Derek Warwick Brabham-BMW 0 Did not start

Ferrari begin to rebuild

Stefan Johansson, Ferrari, Brands Hatch, 1986
Ferrari endured a win-less 1986
On the podium FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre handed Prost an enormous trophy, poured champagne into it, then dashed off before the rest was sprayed. Prost’s 24th career victory meant he had equalled the victory tally of the great Juan Manuel Fangio.

More importantly it secured a maximum haul of nine points on a day when none of his other championship rivals scored. Prost jumped from fourth to second in the standings, two points behind Mansell.

Second and third place for Ferrari was their best result of the season but with Alboreto and Johansson one and two laps down respectively it underlined how far they had fallen off the pace having been championship contenders 12 months ago.

Their home race at Monza was next on the calendar and before it came an announcement which would make Ferrari race winners again. They had hired the designer behind McLaren’s all-conquering cars: John Barnard.

7 comments on “Mansell retirement revives Prost’s title chances”

  1. It was races like this that make me think Prost was the best ever. He was mentally so far ahead of others.

    1. The smartest, probably yes . But in terms of driving ability, although he’s one of the best, there were better. This race, all his rivals dropped out cause of technical issues. Prost’s car barely made it to the finish as well. Lauda had given him this lesson in 1984, to win as slowly as possible. Prost then perfected such tactics

      So in some ways , he was the best ever. But overall does that give him the edge over the 4 drivers normally considered better than him in the GOAT debate, namely Senna, Clark, Schumacher, Fangio? It’s all a matter of preference(namely which traits in a driver one considers the more important) and everyone’s own opinion. My opinion is: No, he isn’t better than any of those 4.

      1. Yeah I see what you’re saying. It certainly does come down to preference. I would definitely hold Prost in the same regard as those you mentioned. In terms of driving ability, and getting a car to the finish a)in one piece and b)using strategy, testing and pure speed to beat everyone else, I definitely think he was one of the most complete drivers ever. Some races he seemed to communicate with his car to get it to the end! Prost, Clark and Fangio were ahead of the others in that respect in my opinion.

  2. The McLaren MP4/2C and its variant predecessors in ’84 and ’85 were really good cars on high speed circuits which had mostly long, fast corners, like the O-Ring, Kyalami, Silverstone, Spa, Zandvoort and Jacarepagua. The Ferraris- which were not good cars that year were, with the Benetton the quickest cars in a straight line, the Lotus cars were the best on slow and twisty circuits, and the Williams cars were good everywhere. Prost was so good at managing his car’s tires that a win here was effectively a certainity, provided the Benettons- which were as good as the McLarens on this track- broke down, which they did.

    1. Would Prost have won though, if the quicker Williams hadn’t dropped out?

  3. Thanks @keithcollantine for another very interesting piece. It’s illuminating to read about races from way before I started watching, the differences and the similarities to later eras

    The map isn’t correct though. No Hella Licht chicane, and the long left handers in the middle of the lap were where the straight from turn 1 to turn 2 is on the current layout, rather than overlapping with the current left-handers as in this picture

    Btw, this race was mentioned recently in a very interesting article at http://www.formula1.com/en/latest/features/2016/8/strange-but-true–f1-s-weirdest-and-most-amazing-records.html because of Teo Fabi and his unwanted record of having 3 poles in his career, but never leading a single lap

  4. The photo of that Williams looks pretty sweet, I love the look of the cars 1984-1993!

    Teo Fabi- I think he took 2 or 3 pole positions but never officially lead a lap!

    The old Osterreichring is awesome, I wonder if will ever turn the tide and actually go back to these old classic tracks rather than making them shorter or going to sterile heartless tracks that pay a nice hosting fee!!?? Surely with some safety improvements some of these old school classics can come back and we can dump boogies like Abu Dhabi !

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