Happy memories

Thirty years ago today, I got very wet. I spent that Sunday afternoon standing on the outside of the Piscine in Monaco, watching the Grand Prix. I was there as a Formula 3 reporter, writing about the rising stars of the day, a field which included Gerhard Berger, Ivan Capelli, John Nielsen, Roberto Ravaglia, Luis Sala, Adrian Campos, Tommy Byrne and many others, including Christian Estrosi, who would later become the French Minister of Industry! It was won by Capelli from Berger with James Weaver third for Eddie Jordan Racing and Byrne fourth in Gary Anderson’s Anson.

The F1 race was a bonus. And what a great race it was, with Alain Prost’s McLaren-TAG being hunted down by Senna’s Toleman-Hart and the pair being closed on by Stefan Bellof in a Tyrrell-Cosworth. People say that Bellof would have won if the race had not been flagged early by Jacky Ickx, who would later lose his licence as an official. Conspiracy theorists reckon he flagged the race because he was a Porsche employee and Prost was driving a Porsche-built TAG engine. Senna was strong that day – it was his first big result in F1 – but I remember that Bellof would probably have won because he had a more manageable Cosworth engine (and an immense talent). Later his third place would be taken away amid controversy when the Tyrrell team was stripped of all its points that year. It does not really matter because Monaco is the race for which Bellof is best remembered and there is nothing the FIA can do to take that away from him. Sadly he would be killed a year later in a sports car crash at Spa.

Monaco was also the race which Nigel Mansell famously led in his Lotus but crashed after losing grip on a white line…

56 thoughts on “Happy memories

  1. Stefan Bellof was killed in a accident caused by Jacky Ickx , at Eau Rouge ;
    Jacky should have gave way ; His time in motor racing was over , but he couldnt except this …….

    1. bold statement, I thing Bellof trying to side by side through eau rouge may have contributed. IF im remembering right of course

      1. It was a racing accident, no more, no less. Unfortunately, as was often the case back then, Bellof died, when in similar circumstances these days, he probably would hardly have had a scratch. I think it highly unlikely that had he lived he would not have won several WCD titles. I saw him race quite a few times, and he always impressed, he was Senna quick in my view.Nice guy, great driver, very sad loss.

  2. Thank you for remembering Stefan Bellof today! He was one of my all time favourite drivers from his antics in Maurer F2 cars to Tyrrell to Porsche Sportscars! Do you know if any books were ever written about him?

  3. That’s a lot of racing history in a short article, and things that many times people forget to mention .

    1. Ickx has been involved in a lot of controversial accident. Example the one involving the death of my good friend Christian Tarin in Rally pyramids in Egypt.

  4. Joe,

    30 years ago today I was watching that race and wish I had the memories that you have on these events, the great and good.

    At this weekend I attended the Renault World series at Spa and saw the Press room and wondered how much time in a typical race weekend you spend in that room and how much time around the circuit… maybe a Blog on ‘ typical Day at the races’ would be of interest to others as well.



  5. I have attended many Grand Prix races and test sessions in the UK and abroad since ’92, but Sue and I had our first live experience of the 2014 power units at Monaco a week last Sunday.

    The event was very well organised and Monaco on a sunny GP day is memorable. I so admire the new hybrid technology, but I’m afraid the limited noise from the F1 cars really diminished the overall spectacle. Noise is just one aspect of motorsport, but can it be right that the preceding Formula Renault 3.5 cars sounded so much more like singleseater racing cars should and even the Porsche Supercup grid made more noise than the F1 cars.

    We don’t want a return to ear-damaging F1 noise levels, but we do need the volume turning up a little. It was like watching a major football match without much noise from the stands, say admiring the skills of Liverpool players but with no accompanying sound from the Kop.

    1. This is the first year. I believe in patience and with development the engine noise next year may be different from this year and so on

  6. “but I remember that Bellof would probably have won because he had a more manageable Cosworth engine (and an immense talent). Later his third place would be taken away amid controversy when the Tyrrell team was stripped of all its points that year. It does not really matter because Monaco is the race for which Bellof is best remembered and there is nothing the FIA can do to take that away from him.”

    Underweight or not – I recall that car was like an over powered kart on street course’s such as Monoco or the old downtown Detroit course. The car in his hands was like a finely honed knife.The ability to change direction was remarkable and the power band of the Cosworth was perfect on point and squirt circuits. Throw in a wet track – add enormous talent and you had the perfect car for anything but the Monza, Silverstone(old) and Spa type circuits.
    If he had only waited for the straight to get past Jackie instead of having something to prove to the factory or perhaps to his old team leader… It was a terrible summer in sports car racing and for German hopes in F1 with Manfred also losing his life – also in a Porsche.

  7. Still waiting in line for when you become an author – can’t wait to read your books on your time in F1 – not that I am trying to retire you !!

  8. Remember that! Was watching on TV and incensed at Ickx’s action. I also remember being embarrassed by “our Nige’s” whinging.

    I later read (in a motor cycle magazine article on traction control) that the Toleman-Hart had a crude form of traction control where any wheel spin would open the waste-gate and reduce the boost pressure. Ever heard of that one Joe?

    1. Robert: It was a very crude from of control in that era. Some teams were retarding ignition advance based upon signals to the ECU from wheel spin sensors. Others used fuel flow restrictions and its entirely possible that wheel spin data could result in an electronically controlled waste gate valve to release pressure. There was no electronic differentials in that era – that technology hadn’t been refined enough to work in F1 at that point. I believe Zytek (named ERA back in the day) was involved with Toleman and were the first to introduce an electronic control module that was claimed to have automated more then just engine control functions – but other car functions as well. The greatest advancement when it came to electronics and turbo’s was the anti-detonation control that electronics brought to the party in that it saved a lot of engines and expensive parts flying out of engine cases and allowed more drivers to finish races compared to the first few years of the 1200HP turbo era.

    2. I think it’s generally acknowledged that Toleman did have an unfair advantage over the rest at Monaco. It was called ‘Senna’.

  9. I have fond memories of that season. I was living in France, and went to the French GP that year. Buckets of rain on Friday & Saturday (I remember that they didn’t even manage to get the pit insignias fully painted). Nigel Mansell’s mother died that weekend, but he still ate his lunch in the pits and signed autographs for anyone who asked.

    I have a fair photo of Bellof as well, and of his 928. A great tragedy. I even have a shadowy snap of Ken Tyrrell himself, deep in agitated conversation with someone at the back of the garage.

    Looking back, it astounds me how close to the action one could get, how approachable everyone was and how little glitz and glamour attended the event. It was a race, full of fumes and oil and metal bits. Noisy enough, too – don’t recall any complaints about how rotten the turbos sounded.

    Not all change is progress. Bernie was just a striver then – did anyone realize just how far he’d climb and how much he’d change the sport? You have to give him credit: he had a vision when nobody else did.

    Thanks for the chance to recall, Joe.

    (And I have a tenuous connection to the Empress line: great uncles who served on her, and I came to Canada in 1965 on the 2nd generation Empress of Canada!)

  10. If Bellof had not been killed in that Porsche 956 in Spa I’m pretty sure he would become the first german to win a title in F1. No one would have noticed Schumacher. Bellof had a huge amount of talent and even more importantly he had a pleasent character, charisma and grace. Something Schumacher will never have no matter how many titles he has won. Bellof was a very special person and it would have been great to see him fighting in a Ferrari against Senna. Sadly it never happened.

    1. I guess you know Schumacher M personally Christi@n?? Actually, if you read about other people’s view of him, from Todt, Brawn,Byrne,to the Benetton guys, the Mercedes GpC team members, etc etc, even dear old Muddy Talker himself, there are many folk who say that Michael is a decent man, with a keen sense of family and humour. He has been both generous with his time and with huge amounts of his personal money, in helping others in disasters such as the Boxing Day tsunami, and is not the sort of person who feels he has to court publicity or the praise of the public, which imho makes him a more honest person than many. I’ll admit his racing could sometimes exceed the bounds of what is deemed satisfactory, but in truth, those incidents were few in his career, and no worse than those of Senna,Prost,Piquet, to name but three.
      We haven’t heard anything about how Michael is doing, for some months now. I hope he recovers as he deserved a long and happy retirement in my view.

  11. That is impressive! You can remember the results from a race you watched 30 years ago? I can hardly remember what I had for lunch :). Seriously though do you remember that stuff or do you have an encyclopaedia that you refer to for those types of results?

  12. Is the “white line” claim now The Official Story? I remember that it brought on some indulging smirks at the time. Come to think of it, viewing last week’s race edit, seems Adrian Sutil ran over one too …

    1. I think it was true. I seem to remeber him touching the white line in the centre of the road on the uphill lefthander just before entering the Casino Square.

      1. I can assure you as a bike rider, there is not only no grip on a painted white line in the wet on a standard road, its like stepping on black ice and you will lose traction, and on a bike youll end up on the floor., thats why you actually see them often at street circuits burn the lines off (though its debateable whether that helps or not)

        but if it rains at Le Mans in little over a weeks time, you wont see anyone putting their driving wheels anywhere near a white line, drivers have clipped them before in similar circumstances to Mansells and been pitched into the armco barriers. Mansells mistake was he was experienced enough by then to have known better, and his whinging was as much on himself.

  13. He really was a sad loss. I saw him at Silverstone with Derek Bell and it was so obvious he had something extra. He would have qualified easily for the British G.P.that year in a 956,if I remember. Ironic that it was Ickx he collided with at Spa.

  14. Gosh was that 30 years ago – seems like yesterday. Oh, the white line… wasn’t that the incident which more than any other, made Peter Warr conclude (erroneously) that Mansell would never win a GP?

    1. Nick: And then there was the, ‘it just shut off’ claim at the Can GP one year as Nigel was driving through cor 10 on the final lap (waving to the crowd) and the rev’s got too low and the car stalled. Spinning out on painted lines isn’t new – ask the young factory Audi driver at Silverstone who recently did this in his LMP1 – hitting the end of the pit wall out armco and then into the gravel after putting a left rear on the paint at turn in for the first corner. Perhaps some day track owners will mix a bit of sand into the paint instead of using semi gloss… 🙂

  15. Surely you forgot to append:

    “Posted from my iPhone discretely from the washroom, whilst waiting for Mrs S to read the wine list, because I dreamed of filing stories off the top of my head like this 30 years ago, so here’s one. Just because I can. Nah nyah to the desk hound hacks!”

    Thank you for transmission of a sense of happiness, Joe. I might be talking rot, but I pick up on the energy sometimes. I love the fact that being your joy, good things in life provoke good memories for you.

    (Until I found GP+ I presumed the F1 press were still slumbering of a Sunday afternoon, groggily avoiding the chore of replaying a tape to start taking notes. You inadvertently jogged my memory also, only a few less years ago, of the shell shock a ex Haymarket man displayed when he landed on my desk, dismayed at our pace. I let myself forget a few things I fundamentally loved. The tangents, many years of them, were necessary, but I have been thoroughly reminded of what is vital.)

  16. Someone was talking about news scoops on a holiday weekend in the other post thread. OT, and it’s no scoop, but in other news: Joe, do you think Juan Carlos’s abdication will diminish anything in Spanish motorsport? It’s a given he loves his racing, but was it enough to make a difference?

    I know nothing whatsoever of Prince Felipe’s interests. Whereas JCII went to school with Ferdinand Piëch, e.g. and by distant accounts offered me, has a deep interest. It’s a tough world if you’re not insulated. No Wroom! with PM keeping their pennies in the jar. If I remember correctly it’s a certain Italian man, with a blue boat of questionable tax liabilities, who has he Spanish broadcast deal, hence less CVC moolah anyway. I’m drifting far afield, but maybe a European GP will supersede the Valencia fixture? Stretching further, I don’t think it was mere courtesy for Haag to compliment FA so before JCII, I’d say there’s more logic than just ingratiating with host monarch and press. Then again, silly season came early, Norbert might have been reminding his two pilots they’re lucky to have the cars they do. I don’t know the histories of deal making, but at times Juan Carlos has been popular enough to make his patronage something I reckon dealmakers would pay heed to.

        1. this is BS.. Ferdinand Piëch got a degree from ETH Zurich, Switzerland, in 1962, in mechanical engineering, having written a master thesis about the development of a Formula One (F1) engine. Juan Carlos of Spain In 1960–61 he studied Law, International Political Economy and Public Finance at Complutense University in Madrid.and John..stutter John , Norbert Haug (not Haag) is no longer in charge of the Mercedes racing program. If you could write coherent sentences it might be funny but really?

          1. I expect you’re right on the details, Eric, but your quotient of coherent sentences is no higher than John’s.

            I’m guessing that in both cases the errors are down to typos – so we can probably all relax a bit and be nicer to each other.

          2. Hmm, okay, you mention degrees they took, the word I was told about school, which was not specified, was given me by a senior man from a VW subsidiary in discussing a sponsorship deal that had ties to Alphonso XIII historically, that I was then responsible for, patronized by JCII, and Piech and JCII were scheduled inadvertently (in long range planning) to meet as a result, though in the end it there was a overlap with Goodwood and some silly miscommunication, so it didn’t happen and it just stuck as a interesting thing I never bothered to check with protocol office or anything like that. I suppose I could have been sold a line, but it was couched enthusiastically in terms of “oh, is that possible , well, actually FP would be delighted, because . . .” and though the movements of such people are beyond me, this chap I was speaking to had a job which ought to have included being informed as to the whys and wherefores. I wouldn’t even want to be a authority on such details of other lives, but that is my recollection and I do not imagine I would be knowingly sold bs by anyone under the VW umbrella.

            Apologies, my recollection failed me in flight and Haag is the abomination of autocomplete on my tablet’s keyboard that I am as yet to master. I can’t contort a appreciation of possible humor from what I wrote, though I don’t mind if I’m plain wrong, it’s not that important to me. Now if I started worrying the times I was plain wrong, that would be funny, if you like calamity humor…

  17. This race has gone down into folklore, and there has been renewed interest since the Senna movie I guess. There is much talk that Senna’s suspension would have failed anyway, apparently sourced from a Toleman mechanic, though I’m not sure how true that is (I don’t know that anyone could predict a failure with such certainty).

    When it comes down to it, no one can predict what might have happened that day. Under those conditions, anything was possible! Anyone could have put it into the fence, just as Mansell did.

    Sadly, we’ll never have the chance to see amazing wet weather performances like that again, as today the field would never be released from the safety car under these conditions. Our loss.

      1. Without knowing the script production, one can’t attribute blame, but I think a major mistake easily made is thinking a niche audience movie has to be cut for general audiences. Dropping important detail comes down to storyline, and that’s a simplified reaction.

        Show a exec the funeral footage, note the three days of official mourning, they get the idea there’s a audience.

        But Senna could have been shown against such a backdrop that was captivating even without him.

        I think it’s a sad nonsense the idea he had no broader rivalry on track and off, and the movie loses much which could have been said.

        That was he racing that fixated me as a boy. I actually struggled to understand the effect of Senna’s death at the time. There was so much else to love, and I privately recognised it as a significant loss, rather than a loss of a singular giant.

        At least, growing up, I took the understanding that all these men were as impressive.

        Cynically I first took the mass coverage of Senna’s death as a function of tunnel vision or narrow minded media. The eighties I grew up with called crass individualism, set against a still fascinating set of sub if not counter cultures in music in particular.

        To me, Samna was amazing to watch, but a proponent of a amazing sport which impressed a very hard to impress youth. That is not a halo I’ve crayoned in since.

        So now, thinking of what you said, I believe there’s a much more interesting message that could be derived from Senna’s life, backdrop the obsession cults of media through three decades.

        There’s definitely a direction that could be understood of years critical to F1 that centre on Senna’s death which still “niche” could make for a “classic”.

        A documentary maker like Ken Burns is whose work any producer or director would understand.

        Admittedly it is hard to do a ten DVD length set like Burns’s baseball chronicle. But it is possible to see F1 in a comparable way, as a reflection of culture and technology, and in that you could not diminish AdSS but you could do the racer better justice by setting the scene of how a real sporting giant found his path. A job yet to be done.

  18. Lewis Hamilton has been doing a passable impression of whinging Nige of late. In fact, I felt like he was losing his grip around Monaco last month. And I’m not talking about his Pirellis.

  19. Thanks Joe for remembering Stefan, I was lucky enough to witness some of his phenomenal driving at the hands of a beast of a Porsche 956 at Brands and it’s still etched into my dwindling brain cells. Thanks Stefan.

  20. And a happy 30th conception anniversary to John Bisignano’s son! John jokingly blamed Jackie Ickx that ending the race early left him with some time to kill (or, more accurately, life to create!). His son was born 9 months later.

    Stefan was a great loss to racing. I’m sure that he and Ayrton would have had many great battles. Both still sorely missed by myself.

  21. Best lap I ever did on the Forza Motorsport version of the Nordschleife was 6m30s after uncountable practice laps – quite a laugh – real-world cars can’t go that fast.

    Until I discovered that Stefan Bellof still holds the record in a Porsche 956 at around 6m11s – 1983.

  22. Stefan was an amazing talent and arguably more exiting to watch than Senna. If that Monaco race had gone the full distance (or 2 hours) then yes I think youre right Bellof would have caught and passed Senna, Lets not forget that Bellof qualifyed a lot further back than Senna so had further to go to move forward too. I’ve still got the video of that race and Bellof is really sliding the car around a lot, no real caution just this amazingly precise style with flair. Bellof still holds the outright record for fastest lap of the (Nordschleife) Nurburgring 6.11secs during qualifying for the sportscar race there (Porsche 956) in 1983 and fastest race lap of 6.26 during the race. Real shame he went so soon but great that 30 years on people still remember him.

  23. Hello Joe, from Sunny California —

    Was wondering what your thoughts are regarding the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team for a reported $2b dollars to former Microsoft exec, Steve Balmer.

    Regardless of the controversy surrounding the team recently, I feel this sale reflects the strength of the NBA following the new Collective Bargaining Agreement from a few years ago (NBA franchise owners versus the NBA players union) that has markedly increased the value of NBA franchises over the last 5 years.

    If ever there were an example to the F1 teams to come together to rise the tide for all boats, this surely would be the best example. Imagine the power at the negotiation table the teams would have (as you’ve stated numerous times) if they were to collect themselves. Imagine a cost cap (again as you’ve stated) that made every F1 team profitable — the line of potential teams and buyers would be around the corner. Yet F1 still struggles to find solutions that could multiply the value of their teams exponentially. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about where Sauber, Marussia, Force India, and Williams will be in a few years time.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on the contrasting situations.

  24. Great memories, I had just started working at Brands Hatch in the press office that year and remember all the excitement as we were right in the middle of getting ready for the British GP.

  25. Surely a world champion in the making?, and a great loss to Formula 1. I can still remember watching that race in Monaco as if it was yesterday.

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