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Talent overplayed



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Stefan Bellof


Tyrrell-Cosworth 012




1985 Portuguese GP (21 April 1985)


My day has been too long. In the morning
I saw the sons of Unamis happy and strong;
and yet, before the night has come I lived
to see the last warrior of the wise race of
the Mohicans.

While most of the top 8W answers drop in during the last days of competition sometimes a good answer arrives very early. That is what happened this month. An answer by Tom Prankerd was so well to the point that every attempt trying to repeat that performance seemed just a waste of time. So I asked our chief editor what to do myself on the subject of one of my all-time favourite drivers. He gave me this answer: "Write what your heart tells you". And that's why this text differs a bit from the normal format. A unique answer to honour a unique driver!

Estoril 1985. A race that brings back memories. The rain. Prost spinning in the grass. Senna taking the flag a minute in front of Alboreto with the rest of the field a lap down. For most of you the race will perhaps be remembered as the beginning - the beginning of Senna's long line of victories. For me who had followed the name Ayrton Senna da Silva in the results lists with interest from March 1981 onwards it was instead an end - the time when I could sit down and relax saying to myself: "I knew it! I was right after all! There were hundreds of drivers to choose from and I picked the right one." It was perhaps the most satisfying moment ever for me as a Formula 1 fan.

And almost unnoticed to most a certain Tyrrell driver had advanced from his 21st position on the grid to finish sixth for his first "legal" championship points. A sensation? Not really! After all this was the man who won his very first F2 start on a rainy Silverstone, the man who had followed that up with a second F2 victory, a unique achievement in the F2 annals, the man who had challenged Prost and Senna on a rainy Monaco day.

Hardly ever have I looked forward to the season opener as I did in 1984. There was my favourite Niki Lauda who at the last race of 1983 in South Africa had showed that he would be back challenging for the championship. And there were the two newcomers Senna and Bellof, my selection as the stars of the future. Senna started his first race 16th on the grid with a 600bhp Toleman-Hart turbo, Bellof 22th in a 510bhp Tyrrell-Cosworth. At the end of the first lap Senna had advanced to 13th but Bellof was already right behind him and on the second lap the German passed the Brazilian. Just like that.

"There are lies, damned lies and statistics." Looking in the books I find the following: Stefan Bellof, GP starts 20, GP wins 0, Pole Positions 0, Fastest laps 0, Best qualifying 16th, Points 4. Bah!

There are texts that in a much better way give you Bellof's Formula 1 career in a nutshell. "Senna was catching Prost but Bellof was catching both of them and could well have won the Monaco Grand Prix if the race had been allowed to run longer." Variants of that text are to be found in the books whenever Bellof is mentioned. But has it really occurred to you all what it really means?

Bellof had qualified 20th and dead last, 3.5 seconds slower than Prost and over a second slower than Senna. And yet I have never, ever, heard or read anywhere that "he couldn't have done it". One can find comments like "he would probably have crashed before the end" or so but never any doubts about that he had the ability to do it. Think about it again. Catching and passing four-times Monaco winner Alain Prost in his McLaren. A piece of cake? And then catching Ayrton Senna... with an inferior car... and pass him... at Monaco... in the rain...

People have sometimes compared Gilles Villeneuve to Bernd Rosemeyer. While we have a good idea of what kind of people modern Grand Prix drivers are and how they look and behave, the image of the old veterans sometimes becomes a bit blurred. Often they remain just names and statistics, sometimes accompanied by a black and white photo. It was therefore with great interest I looked at an old post-race interview with Bernd Rosemeyer (Coppa Acerbo 1937). And my first impression was: Hey! He's not like Gilles at all! He's like Stefan Bellof! The same relaxed appearance on the edge of nonchalance, the same shy smile, the laughing, the same almost childish enthusiasm.

Whatever the Fangio, Ickx, or Stewart fans may say, for me Bernd Rosemeyer will forever be the master of Nürburgring. In his Porsche-designed Auto Union he led every time he raced there. It is therefore significant to me that one of my sharpest memories of Bellof is from the last race at the old 'Ring when he threw the big Porsche around the track in a way that is indescribable. Bellof became sportscar world champion in 1984. The races that year were often decided early, as Bellof used to open up an uncatchable gap on the first stint. At the Nürburgring in 1983 however, he would end up at Pflanzgarten, the car a wreck, the driver standing nearby, smiling as usual.

While every death on the race track is a horrible experience there are some that seem to be even more depressing than the others. You cannot find anything consoling in Clark's crash at Hockenheim, racing as a backmarker in an insignificant F2 race. Or a highly frustrated Ascari who left the pits without his blue helmet and never returned. Or a bitter Villeneuve at Zolder trying to beat Pironi's time. Or Rosemeyer at a cold January morning on a deserted German highway forced do a thing he hated and feared.

Or Imola 1994. At least Senna was where he should be, up there, leading the field. A paltry consolation, the only little positive thing from that weekend we can find in our desperate search for something...

To me Bellof's death came just as a few lines in a newspaper. A hard fact thrown into the face. Later details came and changed part of the grief into amazement. He tried to do what? Trying to pass Jacky Ickx, the master of sportscars, for the lead of the race at Eau Rouge! At Eau Rouge of all places!?

Autocourse tells about the reaction among the Formula 1 teams: "Given Bellof's exuberant style, there was a reluctant acceptance of what had happened."

Stefan went through his life with a smile on his lips and I'm sure he that he, unlike the drivers mentioned above, was really enjoying the race to its fullest the moment he went into Eau Rouge. So instead of thinking with grief of what might have been, just try to remember with a smile the moments of brilliance we were fortunate enough to see. I think Stefan Bellof deserves to be remembered that way.

Reader's Why by Tom Prankerd

Of all the lost talents spread so liberally across the history of Grand Prix racing, the story of Stefan Bellof is perhaps the most tragic. His all too brief career encompassed twenty Grands Prix for Tyrrell and nine World Sportscar Championship wins, a cache which does no justice whatsoever to his talent.

By the early eighties Germany was something of an underachiever in modern Formula One. Pre-war great Hans Stuck had appeared in a small handful of Grand Prix, but was to close to retirement to have any impact on the Championship. Wolfgang von Trips seemed to have taken the title, but Death was to cheat him, almost at the final hurdle. Since then, only Jochen Mass had taken a Grand Prix win for Germany. Stefan Bellof was another man who seemed to be ready to break that duck.

He was something of a late starter, with his first car race coming at the age of 23. Bellof entered the German National Formula Ford 1600 Championship, and took the title at his first attempt, and won the International version in 1982. He was signed to drive a Ralt in the last seven rounds of the Formula Three Championship, and caused a stir when he won his third race in the category. He would add a further two victories, and move up to Formula Two for 1982. Signing for Willi Maurer's team, using their own chassis and powerful BMW engines, the outlook was good, although Maurer was heavily criticised for signing the youngster over the proven Mike Thackwell, for the third car alongside Beppe Gabbiani and Peter Schindler.

Bellof silenced his critics by dominating the wet International Trophy race at Silverstone, equalling Dave Morgan's long-standing record of winning his category debut. A fortnight later he took the Jim Clark Memorial Trophy, with a superb win at Hockenheim. However, a valve failure at Thruxton was just the start of a decline in form for the team, with engine troubles, and a chassis which was too delicate for Bellof's aggressive style, meaning he didn't win another race that year.

He stayed on with Maurer in 1983, but his main focus was shifting already. Porsche, quick to realise the potential of having the young German star in one of their cars, signed him for its Rothmans-backed works team. He astonished those in the sport by driving the big 956 in exactly the same fashion he threw his single-seaters around, and his form was devastating. Paired with Derek Bell, he demolished lap records wherever possible. At the last international race held at the old Nordschleife circuit in May, for example, he lapped the beast in an amazing 6m11.13s, a full 20s faster than Bell had managed the day before in the same car, and 5.5s faster than Mass in the second Rothmans Porsche. In the race itself Bellof tore away, pulling away 6s per lap from Mass. However, Bell drove at a more reduced rate after their switch, and old 'Ring-master Jacky Ickx, taking over from Mass, passed him. Bellof's next stint rather summed up his whole season. He shot off after Mass, passing him, leading him by 29s then engaging in a titanic duel with the stop-watch, resulting in a 6m 25.91s lap (with an average speed of 120.75mph!) before spinning at Pflanzgarten and managing to almost completely destroy the car after a 160mph shunt into the barriers. If Stefan was rather unfazed by this, Mass crept past the wreckage, fully expecting the young German to be dead, but instead seeing Bellof standing on the other side of the barrier, waving at him!

Bellof had a great season: after teething troubles with the latest evolution of the 956 saw him 7th at Monza, he came good at Silverstone, his second drive for the team, he and Bell drove to a fine win. At Spa, where the duo came second after team orders kept them behind local hero Ickx (the team manager Norbert Singer made sure Bell had the final stint, as he was not sure that Bellof would listen!). A lengthy pit-stop at Brands Hatch saw Bellof undertake a breathless charge to finish third, but it was his fault as he had spun the Porsche and lost a piece of the bodywork. With the Championship all but wrapped up, he and Bell then took wins at the closing two rounds, Kyalami, lapping the field in the rain, and Fuji.

F2 was less successful, with more reliability trouble, to which Maurer's answer was to blame everyone else. His character, which rival Jonathan Palmer would liken to that of ATS, and later Rial, boss Günter Schmidt, meant an unhealthy turn-over of staff and engineering crew, and thus no stability or organisation, so important in F2. He was, however, awarded a win at Jarama after the dominant Casio Ralt-Hondas of Palmer and Thackwell, as well as the third-placed AGS of Philippe Streiff, were disqualified, giving Bellof and Alain Ferté a Maurer one-two.

Formula One teams were beginning to pay attention: Ickx, Mass and Bell were no slouches, and yet on raw speed Bellof was eating them alive. However, as a first priority he was tied to Rothmans Porsche for 1984, and this tended to scare off the big teams, who wanted first call, and also Rothmans didn't want him to drive for a team with tobacco sponsorship, ruling out the likes of McLaren and Lotus. He did test for the former, along with Brundle and Senna, and impressed, but the Rothmans veto, and the sudden availability of Alain Prost undid chances of a seat with the team. A seat in Formula One did come his way, though. Ken Tyrrell reasoned that signing the next great driver, and only running him at the races where he wasn't driving for Porsche, was better than not running him at all. Also, the Tyrrell team didn't have to worry about a big money Camel or Marlboro contract annoying Rothmans, as the team was incredibly poor. They were the only team not to run a turbocharged engine in 1984, relying on the DFY version of Costin & Duckworth's classic V8.

Despite Michele Alboreto's win at Detroit, finances were as strained as ever at Tyrrell. The Italian had left for Ferrari, and only scored on one other occasion. American Danny Sullivan had proven a costly flop, with just a 5th at Monaco to his name. The lucrative United Colours of Benetton sponsorship had also gone, to Euro Racing and Alfa Romeo. So Tyrrell ran their cars in different liveries, with the number 3 car usually running in Yardley Gold colours, and the number 4 in Maredo colours. Martin Brundle was signed for the first car, hot from his classic F3 battle with Ayrton Senna, and Bellof was placed in the second. So with a Grand Total of no Grands Prix between its two drivers, an engine which was basically 17 years old and no money the Tyrrell team didn't seem to be in for a very happy year.

However, things got better: firstly the calenders of the Sportscar and Formula One championships revealed just two clashes, the German and European Grands Prix, although Rothmans retained the right to refuse Tyrell the use of Bellof. Also, Tyrrell's 012 proved a nimble chassis, and the DFY, much lighter than most of the turbos, meant a well-balanced car. It perfectly matched the style of its drivers.

The season-opener at the Jacarepagua circuit in Rio saw Bellof qualify 22nd, four places behind Brundle. He ran with the British driver early on, but his throttle jammed after 11 laps and he span off. Brundle went on to finish a determined 5th. The second round, at Kyalami saw him start 24th, a place ahead of Brundle, and another strong race was ended by a loose wheel. He again out-qualified his team-mate at Zolder, in 21st, but his race was what everyone was talking about. An electrifying drive saw him pass cars as if they weren't there, and a tigering performance was rewarded with 6th place. His finesse and aggression were again on display at Imola, where he started 21st again, and outdid himself by finishing in 5th. He was to incur the wrath of Ken when consistent short-shifting to stay with the turbo boys at Dijon blew his Cosworth, but the next race was to see probably the greatest drive of his Formula One career.

On the Sunday morning before the Monaco Grand Prix, faces were long in the Tyrrell garage. Hopes had been high of a good result on the circuit where power didn't matter as much, but Brundle had suffered a brake failure in the closing minutes of qualifying while on a quick run, and had written off his car at Tabac. On the plus side, this meant Stefan kept his place in 20th, and last, on the grid. Torrential rain graced the race itself, and Tyrrell told Bellof to take it easy, and hope that enough of the turbo boys aquaplaned off. But Stefan was having none of this. On the first lap, he moved past five people, leaving him 13th as the two Renaults had been squeezed by Arnoux. He then began to pick off some of the leading lights of the day on a circuit not exactly renowned for passing opportunities, to say the least. He had an extended tussle with Keke Rosberg, but even the gritty Finn was forced to concede. He moved up to fourth when Nigel Mansell slammed his Lotus into the wall, and then third as Niki Lauda span out. He then reeled Ayrton Senna in at a rate of knots as the Brazilian carved into Alain Prost's lead. However, it was not to be and despite the rain being no worse than it was at the start, the red flag was held out after 31 laps. People are quick to point to this as a race robbed from Senna, but had the current pace continued, Bellof would have passed both. The biggest question is whether he would have thrown it into the barriers or not, however...

Montreal saw an inevitable downturn, a broken drive-shaft ending his race, although he did appear in a Drivers v Press football match. At Detroit he ran with Brundle, who ended up second, but an attempt to pass the Englishman saw him clout the pit wall, and he limped round a lap before retiring. However, this was small potatoes compared to what the team was about to go through. In post-race scrutineering officials tested the water and found impurities and lead shot. Samples were sent away for proper analysis, and Ken Tyrrell was summoned to Paris for a meeting on July 18. Until then the team was allowed to race under appeal. At the shambolic Dallas Grand Prix things got worse when Brundle broke his ankles after a crash in Friday Practice. Bellof clipped a wall and retired early on.

Between the Dallas race and the British Grand Prix the Paris meeting resulted in the expulsion of the team from any further participation in the Championship, and the negating of all points (13) and places already achieved. The FISA (FIA sporting organisation at the time) banned Tyrrell under Article 152 of the International Sporting Code. A press release was issued explaining the decision:

"The Tyrrell team: after having heard Mr Ken Tyrrell, given the analyses which resulted from the samples taken from Tyrrell No.3 at the Detroit Grand Prix, given the witnesses heard and from deep-seated convictions, for violation of the following articles of the F1 Technical Regulations:

Art. 6-14: any refuelling during the race is forbidden.

Art. 14.1.2: fuel not complying with the regulation.

Art. 6.9: fuel lines must have safety breakaway valves.

Art. 6.11: fuel lines must be capable of supporting a given pressure and temperature.

Art. 4.2: ballast may be used provided that it is secured in such a way that tools are necessary to remove it. It must be possible to affix seals to it.

The Tyrrell team entered for the FIA Formula One Championship is excluded from this Championship, and as a result its entry is cancelled. This decision takes immediate effect. The appeal before the FIA Court of Appeal does not suspend this decision."

Tyrrell appealed, and gained the right to run the cars at Silverstone, thanks to the support of the RAC, with Stefan Johansson replacing Brundle. To fend off possible complications should Tyrell be found guilty, 27 cars were allowed to start. Bellof ran near the back, narrowly avoiding Palmer's race-stopping shunt and coming home 11th. His home race saw him absent with Porsche, and Mike Thackwell stood in. His return couldn't help the ever more beleaguered Tyrell team at the flat-out Österreichring, as the power nature of the circuit saw him and Johansson fail to qualify. To add to this, his 27th best time was disallowed as his car was 3kg underweight. Another low-key outing a Zandvoort followed. Then came the final hearing on the ballast problem. Tyrrell had been busy and had discovered that the two analyses carried out on the water samples were both in error. The analyses had stated that the sample

"contained 27.5% Aromatics",

whereas this figure was the percentage of Aromatics in the hydrocarbons present in the sample, not the percentage of the whole sample, the true figure being around 1%. The Appeal Court merely revised the wording regarding the presence of hydrocarbons and amazingly introduced a completely new charge, that

"holes existing in the flat bottom of the Tyrrell car was an infraction under Art.3.3"

These holes were supposedly to allow air to escape after it was displaced by the water added to the tank during pit stops. The holes were deemed illegal at the British Grand Prix and were in fact closed off from that time. The hearing lasted two days before the appeal was rejected. The main findings were:

1. "It is sufficient for the tribunal to note that the presence of traces, however infinitesimal, of hydrocarbons which should not have been there, were found in the water."

2. The lead balls used for ballast (defined as 'unsecured mobile ballast' by reason of the fluidity of the lead balls): "contravened the regulations, notably because of the impossibility for the stewards to fix seals on the ballast and to affirm that the ballast remained permanently fixed throughout the duration of the event." Also, "in the absence of the guarantees required by Art. 4.2 of the Technical Regulations ('ballast may be used provided that it is secured in such a way that tools are necessary to remove it. It must be possible to fix seals to it.') the infraction is found to have been committed in a particularly serious fashion because of the impossibility of ensuring that the weight of the car really was that minimum weight throughout the event."

3. "Contrary to this mandatory regulation (Art. 3.3) holes were pierced in the flat bottom of the car for, according to Tyrrell, the evacuation of air or excess liquid in order to facilitate the replenishment of the tank in an extremely short time, although that evacuation could have been done without difficulty at another position."

Ken Tyrrell maintained that he had no idea how the hydrocarbons came to be in the water, and that the cars never dropped below the minimum weight of 540kg during the race, and that lead ballast had not been added during pit stops. He also presented evidence from Patrick Head and John Barnard that the small holes were so small that they had no effect on aerodynamics.

The FIA remained unmoved, and the team was suspended for the remaining rounds. Bellof, meanwhile, was having a fine season with Rothmans Porsche. He won the opening round of the Championship at Monza, again partnering Bell. Further wins with Bell followed at the Nürburgring, Spa-Francorchamps and Sandown Park, and Bellof took the 1984 title. He also won the national German Endurance title, again for Porsche.

For 1985 he decided to concentrate on Formula One. Ken Tyrrell was trying to secure turbocharged engines for the season, but for now the team had to make do with the DFY. Bellof also signed a sportscar deal with Walter Brun's team, again running a Porsche 956, although Tyrrell would have priority. However, for the opening round in Brazil he found himself snubbed in favour of Johansson and Brundle. When Ferrari made Johansson an offer he couldn't refuse, the seat opened back up, and at Estoril the rain gave him the chance to prove himself. While Senna, his duelling partner in the memorable 1984 Monaco race, waltzed off into the distance Bellof recovered from an early spin to move up to a superb 6th, following Nigel Mansell's Williams across the line, and narrowly avoiding being caught up in the latter's finish-line spin. The Cosworth let him down early on at San Marino, as the team struggled to find the sponsors needed to complete the new 013. He missed out on qualification at Monaco, the year-old car not up to making the 20-car grid. Canada saw a battling performance go unrewarded with 11th place, but the Detroit street circuit gave him a chance to shine. He again shadowed team-mate Brundle until the Englishman ploughed into Philippe Alliot's RAM, and despite contriving to lose a huge panel off the front of his car he hunted down Alboreto's Ferrari, and was about to pass him for third when Stefan's eye caught the fuel meter reading "empty", and he eased off to settle for 4th place, the final points scored by the DFV/Y. The new Renault-engined car was ready for Ricard, but only one was avaliable and it was given to Brundle. Stefan was lost in the pack at the speed circuit, coming home 13th, 3 laps down. Brundle again got the turbo at Silverstone, and after myriad technical problems and a couple of spins, Bellof finished 11th out of 11, 6 laps down. He was finally given a Renault-engined car at the Neue Nürburgring for his home race, and immediately outpaced Brundle, qualifying 7 places ahead of him, and finishing 8th to the Englishman's tenth. He would have come sixth at Austria, but overzealous use of the turbo saw him out of fuel two laps from the end. The engine blew up altogether at Zandvoort, but no-one could imagine what was to happen before the next race.

Stefan had found that Brun's Porsches weren't in the same league as the works machines, but had still partnered Thierry Boutsen to a fine third in the season opener at Mugello. Then results tailed off somewhat. However, come the Spa 1000kms Bellof felt that the driver's track nature of the circuit gave him a chance. Coming up Eau Rouge, he tried to force his car past the works machine of Ickx. The Porsches touched, and were thrown into the barriers. Stefan died instantly, a talent which shone brightly whatever he drove.

Tyrrell technical data quoted from Nigel Dempsey.