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In memory of... 1984

Crash.net's Will Saunders looks back at the 1984 Formula 1 season and the title fight between Alain Prost and Niki Lauda and considers the parallels that can be made to 2014 and the scrap between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton...
Formula One history is full of parallel pasts. Narratives are re-written with new characters, cycles of dynasties and dominance play themselves out as revolving doors of supremacy, and the incessant progress and expansion of Grand Prix racing is underpinned by a core cast of recurring names, nations and circuits.

The 2014 season has been defined by the dominance of one team, Mercedes, and the ebb and flow of the increasingly bitter feud between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as they contest an internal battle for the World Championship.

A single team and driver enjoying a huge performance advantage over their rivals is nothing new, and nor is the idea of two drivers from two different teams fighting tooth and claw for the World Championship. However, the notion of two equally matched drivers within a dominant team fighting an exclusive battle for the championship is surprisingly rare.

1996 saw Damon Hill pip rookie Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to the championship at the season's final round, but the battle was rarely enthrallingly close - either on the track or in the standings. Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna's epochal title fights of 1988 and 1989 at McLaren are perhaps the most famous examples of intra-team rivalry, but the iconic standing of the characters, the level of dominance and the ultimately destructive fallout of the narrative are without comparison in F1 history. 1955 also saw the fight between two team-mates go to the wire as Juan-Manuel Fangio took the title from Mercedes stable partner Stirling Moss, but Moss's championship challenge was a token gesture.

There was though one other season which, like 2014, saw two team-mates, one a world champion and the other a multiple race winner, fight a closed-doors battle for the championship that went to the very last; a battle defined by a contrast in styles and discrepancies in reliability, fought out in a dominant car powered by a V6 turbo engine that returned a team to dominance from the doldrums, and played out against a backdrop of controversial new regulations in the name of efficiency. Niki Lauda and Alain Prost's battle for the 1984 championship at the wheel of the McLaren-TAG MP4/2 may not resonate with the same degree of tumultuousness as the Senna and Prost years, but the parallels between 1984 and 2014 are arguably stronger – and the lessons of the past highly prescient for Hamilton and Rosberg as they head into the second half of the season.

1984 marked the fourth season of McLaren's ownership by Ron Dennis, and fortunes had steadily improved from the podium-free nadir of 1980 after Dennis's Project Four Racing operation merged with the ailing McLaren team. Three consecutive race-winning seasons and a championship challenge from John Watson in 1982 set the tone for the fledgling Dennis era, and for 1984 McLaren's prospects were improved by a new chassis, the MP4-2, and the first full season of turbo engines in the team's history.

1983 marked the turning point of Formula One's first turbo era, with Nelson Piquet the first driver to win the World Championship powered by a turbo engine. As improved reliability increasingly rendered the notoriously volatile turbo engines a viable option, so turbo power became a requirement for peak competitiveness. McLaren's first such power unit was also the turbo era's first great engine: the TAG/Porsche TTE PO1 1.5 V6t.

TAG, an acronym of Luxembourg-based holding company Techniques d'Avant Garde, had first entered F1 as a sponsor of Williams in 1980. After Ron Dennis offered TAG the opportunity to acquire part-ownership of McLaren, they financed the development of turbocharged Porsche V6 engines for McLaren's exclusive use in 1984. Welded to the MP4-2 monocoque as part of an integrated design process, chassis and engine rapidly proved themselves both quick and reliable.

The most crucial ingredients, and the key players in the narrative, were of course the drivers. Niki Lauda was a 35 year-old veteran of two World Championships, two 'permanent' retirements and 19 race wins across his 13 years in the sport. The straight-talking Austrian was as characteristically blunt and curmudgeonly then as he is now, but he was also still a very quick driver, and retained his capacity for outstanding technical feedback and car development.

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Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
The Marlboro McLaren Team celebrate as Alain Prost (FR), McLaren MP4/2, takes the chequered flag. Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Holland, 26/08/1984.
04.07.2014 - Alain Prost (FRA)
26.07.2014- Qualifying, Nikki Lauda (AU), Mercedes
22.06.2014- Race, Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W05 leads Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W05
06.04.2014- Race, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W05 fighting with Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W05
26.07.2014- Qualifying, Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W05 pole position
27.07.2014- Race, 3rd position Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W05
Alain Prost (FR), Marlboro McLaren International MP4/2. Monaco Grand Prix, 03/06/1984, Monte Carlo.

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August 12, 2014 11:29 AM
Last Edited 1070 days ago

Lauda the old fox, Prost the young hotshot, what a classic season. Lauda won on cunning and consistency, if he wasn't retiring he was on the podium, and half points at Monaco proved costly for Prost. Alain must have felt he would forever be the bridesmaid after coming so close for a second year in a row, he could have easily been a six time world champion by the end of his career.


August 12, 2014 7:55 PM

Fun facts for people who remember past seasons with rose tinted glasses! Despite the similarities between these seasons, and despite the fact that the field was bigger in 1984, here's some interesting figures for you: - The average victory margin in 1984 was about 23,5 seconds - The average number of cars finishing on the lead lap was about 3,5 Since then of course, as you all know F1 has become known for its incredibly boring, procession-like races, as shown by these numbers: - The average victory margin in 2014 was about 12,5 seconds - The average number of cars finishing on the lead lap was about 9,5 ...oh wait.

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