Monaco is often referred to as the jewel in the crown of the Formula 1 calendar and this race was a shining example of this accolade.
Going into Round 6 of the 1984 season, McLaren were clearly a force to be reckoned with, winning all but one of the previous rounds. Their drivers, Alain Prost and Niki Lauda, seemed destined to battle it out for the title. In the standings Prost had a six-point lead over his Austrian teammate and McLaren had a twenty-point lead over second placed Ferrari, the only other team to win a race so far.
However the story of this Monaco Grand Prix was not that of the all-conquering McLarens, it was very much centered around three rookies that shocked, amazed and astounded everybody who witnessed it.
There was excitement and almost tragedy even before qualifying began when Martin Brundle slammed into the wall at the exit of Tabac and flipped his Tyrrell over. The collision was so severe that Martin suffered a concussion so intense that he couldn’t recall where he was. Brundle’s first Monaco Grand Prix was over before it had barely begun.
On Sunday, the weather was appalling, a heavy rain storm had drowned the principality. There’s no question that had this race been held in 2017 it would never have started. It was so drenched that before the race, the local fire brigade had to water the track inside the tunnel because the sudden difference in the surface could’ve been too great for the wet weather tyres to take.
After a 45-minute delay the race got underway, the grid waded their way to the first corner, Warwick, Tambay and de Cesaris all collided at the bottom of the hill. Alain Prost lead with Nigel Mansell’s Lotus following closely behind.
By Lap 5 Niki Lauda, a man considered by some to be afraid of the wet, made it up to third, having started eighth, after passing both Ferrari cars through terrific moves at the hairpin and then on the run up the hill. Seven laps later and things got worse for Prost as he lost his lead to Mansell who relentlessly built a gap. It didn’t last, though, as Nigel lost control of the rear of the car before the Casino, hit his rear wing on the wall and was out of the race.
Prost retook the lead, Lauda was now second and sensationally, a young Brazilian in a Toleman was in the top three! His name was Ayrton Senna and he was now catching the second placed man in front of him. By now he was in the points (top 6) and catching the 1982 world champion, Keke Rosberg, for fifth.
A few laps later Senna got a much better run out of the Rascasse and drove past Lauda as if he wasn’t there. He was now chasing down Prost for the lead. The Toleman was not a good car, at best it was a midfield runner with little chance of points, Prost had a thirty second advantage over the Brazilian.
Lauda then did the unexpected and spun off at the Casino on Lap 24, due to this stalled his engine and was out. Bellof then put at an incredible move down the inside of Rene Arnoux’s Ferrari at the Mirabeau and was provisionally on the podium.
The thirty-second advantage that Prost once had over Senna was now being slashed to pieces. The Brazilian had set the fastest lap of the race (thirty seconds off of pole, such was the deluge on track) was catching at around three to five seconds a lap.
“Prost is waving his hands, he wants to stop the race!” Shouted Murray Walker in the commentary box, as the rain intensified and the Frenchman realised he was in trouble.
He got his wish and on Lap 32 the red and chequered flags came out and Prost stopped on the pit-straight. He did so before the finish line and Senna passed to cross the line and win the race! Or so he thought…
Senna coasted around the circuit, waving his fist in the air in sheer ecstasy as if he had won, however when a race is red-flagged, the positions from the previous lap are taken as the results.
Ironically, this move by Prost may well have cost him the 1984 title as he went on to finish just half a point behind Lauda, the smallest ever losing margin. Finishing second on full points would’ve given him 1.5 points more than winning on half points.
What happened to Ayrton Senna? Well, he became a triple world champion and what many consider to be the greatest driver in the history of Formula 1.