The following is an excerpt from the new book: “Niki Lauda: His Competition History,” by Jon Saltinstall. The hardcover book contains 375 pages and 500 photos and is available for pre-order from The RACER Store. Click here for more information.
1984 Portuguese Grand Prix
Estoril, 21 October 1984
McLaren MP4/2-1 #8
Qualifying: 11th Result: 2nd (fastest lap)
Lauda had set the fourth-quickest time in the acclimatization session that preceded official practice on Thursday at this new circuit on the Formula 1 calendar, but when qualifying started in earnest he was plagued by a series of minor niggles and was never able to get into a rhythm.
His first qualifying run was interrupted by a trip up the escape road at one of the uphill right-handers, flat-spotting his tires in the process. He had just embarked on his last set of qualifying tires when his engine began to lose power, the result of a faulty master switch.
Instead of starting from near the front of the grid, he faced an uphill struggle from only 11th spot in his battle with Alain Prost for the World Championship title. Suitably motivated, he was fastest in the warm-up, almost half a second quicker than his team-mate, but then things again started to go wrong and he was delayed by a jammed wheel nut and the need for the engine to be replaced after showing signs of losing water.
He made an extremely cautious start and ran 13th at the end of the first lap with what looked like an impossible challenge ahead of him. He gained a position when Derek Warwick spun his Renault on lap 13 and easily passed Elio de Angelis’s tire-troubled Lotus, but a damaged turbo on the left-hand cylinder bank meant that his engine was under-performing, keeping him behind Stefan Johansson’s Toleman for a long spell.
Eventually he decided that he had wasted enough time and that his cautious approach would yield no results, so he wound up the boost pressure and went on the attack.
On lap27 Johansson missed a gear into the left-hander at the back of the circuit and Lauda dived through the gap, removing the Toleman’s front wing in the process but luckily emerging with his own car undamaged. Less than a lap later he outbraked Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari at the end of the main straight and surged passed Keke Rosberg’s Williams on lap 31 at the same place. His momentum carried him up to Ayrton Senna’s Toleman and, after two laps, he overtook the Brazilian in a similar manoeuver.
In less than 10 minutes he had progressed from ninth place to third. However, second-placed Nigel Mansell (Lotus) was 35 seconds ahead of him. Although he closed the gap at more than a second a lap, a group of squabbling backmarkers delayed him and he lost most of the time he had made up. Then Mansell, still half a minute ahead, suffered brake failure on lap 51 and spun, allowing Lauda to close to within a few seconds while setting the race’s fastest lap with a better time than he had managed in qualifying.
Next time around the McLaren went past the Lotus, which promptly spun again, but that was of no consequence to Niki as he now held the vital second place that he needed to win the World Championship.
Although he was 50 seconds behind Prost, he could finally ease off and he had a trouble-free run for the last 18 laps as he followed his team-mate to the flag. He was World Champion for the third time after a race that he later described as the most difficult of his career.