Lap Time: Nail-Biter
The Formula 1 finale of the 1984 season becomes a nerve-racking duel for team colleagues Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. Only 3.5 points separate the McLaren-TAG-Porsche drivers before the race. 70 laps later, one of them is world champion – leading with 0.5 points.
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Twelve wins in 16 Grand Prix: the 1984 Formula One World Championship is akin to a landslide victory for the McLaren-TAG-Porsche. Powered by the compact 1.5-liter V6 twin-turbo engine developed by Porsche engineer Hans Mezger, teammates Niki Lauda and Alain Prost battled it out for the World Championship title. In its first full season, the powerhouse duo of the Porsche development center in Weissach trounced the competition with its superior power of around 750 PS, low fuel consumption, and exceptional reliability and drivability.
Teammates become bitter rivals. 35-year-old Lauda is already an experienced two-time World Champion at the start of the season and only returns to the premium class at the urging of team leader Ron Dennis. Prost, who is six years younger, is hungry for his first title and almost always leaves Lauda in the dust in the qualifying. After 15 of 16 World Championship races, Lauda has five wins under his belt, and Prost six. At 66 to 62.5, Lauda takes the lead in the drivers’ standings, pointing to a thrilling season final, with the ultimate decision to be made in Estoril, Portugal.
To end the cat-and-mouse game and secure the World Champion title, Lauda needs to take second place, and Prost first. Doesn’t sound impossible. But then the qualification takes a disastrous turn for the Austrian, who ends up in grid position eleven. Prost manages to secure position two. The racing team’s main sponsor places its bet on the Frenchman and has already had posters printed with Prost as the champion.
And Lauda? He believes in himself.
Get ready for a thriller! Prost battles it out at the front with polesitter Nelson Piquet and wins duels against Nigel Mansell and Keke Rosberg, before taking the lead in the ninth lap. Lauda is held back by problems with the turbocharger, which today of all days absolutely refuses to deliver its full power. He puts up a fight and manages to pass a few drivers, making it into seventh place during the 18th lap. Later he’ll report that his car gets faster and faster in the decisive phase. He continues to make headway and, after 33 laps, catches up with Mansell, who is in second place. And then in lap 51 the Briton runs into some trouble himself when the brakes of his Lotus give out. He veers off the course and the crowd goes wild. Lauda passes him by – and actually takes second place behind Prost.
“ Portugal 1984 was the race of my life.”Niki Lauda
But nothing has been decided yet, and the last 19 laps promise to be a nail-biter. The turbocharger issues have affected the fuel consumption. Will there be enough gas? Lauda doesn’t know, but can only hope. Then after 70 laps he’s saved by the checkered flag. With the smallest lead in history of just half a point, Lauda is named World Champion – a record that has not been broken to this day. For him it’s the third and final Formula 1 title. The team wins the constructors’ championship with 143.5 points, followed by runner-up Ferrari with just 57.5.
It’s the first in a series of wins by McLaren-TAG-Porsche. The team will go on to compete the following two years. And the age of Alain Prost has finally arrived.