The premier race weekend of the year is finally upon us, highlighted by the crown jewel of Motorsport: the Monaco Grand Prix. And for those of you clamoring for the Indianapolis 500 to get a little shine, save your breath. Not only does the glitz and glamour of the sovereign city-state trump anything the Rust Belt has to offer, but the racing is pretty darn exciting too. The proof is in the pudding, so lets travel back to the 1984 Grand Prix for perhaps Monaco’s most famous running.
The 1984 Monaco Grand Prix was the sixth round of the 1984 Formula One season and there was a vicious battle between Alain Prost and Niki Lauda, both on the McLaren-TAG team, for the Drivers’ World Championship. A up and coming talent named Ayrton Senna was also in the field on that fateful Sunday. When race time finally rolled around, heavy rains were falling in Monaco and the stewards had no choice but to delay the start of the race. Safety was the primary concern. Track conditions were tough enough that Niki Lauda convinced Bernie Ecclestone to flood the famous tunnel section so that drivers wouldn’t lose control transitioning into the dry yet oily surface. After a 45 minute delay everyone decided it was time to get on with the race. Lights out.
Prost, who had taken pole postion in qualifying, quickly took the lead in his vastly superior McLaren MP4/2 with a TAG-Porsche engine. His car wasn’t up to the challenge however, and after a misfire, Prost found himself behind Nigel Mansell. Mansell was pulling away from Prost at around two seconds per lap, before crashing on the run up to Casino Square six laps later. Once again in the lead, Prost tried to manage the car and fight through the conditions. Enter Senna. Senna, in his rookie season and in an average Toleman car, had started 13th but was slowly climbing the rankings. On lap 29, Prost had Senna in his rear view mirror and he started to panic. Prost waved to the stewards of the race to indicate that he felt the race should be stopped. Prost knew he had the skills to win that day, but he wasn’t sure he had the car. The McLaren was suffering from a major brake imbalance due to the cool temperatures. In fact, the same ailment has cause Niki Lauda’s McLaren to spin out and stall a few laps earlier. A slowing Prost waved again on lap 31 as he passed the start/finish line.
The red flag came out at the end of the 32nd lap. Here is where is gets interesting. Not only did Senna pass Prost as he came to a stop on the 32nd lap, but the decision to stop the race was made by course clerk Jacky Ickx. Ickx happened to be an employee of Porsche, McLaren’s engine partner, and Ickx made the decision without consulting the stewards. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the stewards declared Prost the winner as the rules stated the positions counted are those from the last lap completed by every driver – lap 31. The results were debated for weeks and eventually resulted in Ickx being suspended from his race control duties. And while Senna didn’t notch his first win in Formula One that weekend, he certainly showcased his world class skills. As James Hunt said, “We are watching the arrival of Ayrton Senna, a true outstanding talent.”