F1 Blast from the past: A legend is born at estoril ’85

As Formula 1 returns to Portugal for the first time since 1996, we look back on one of the best Portuguese Grands Prix ever!

Background & Qualifying

The second round of the 1985 Formula One World Championship took place at the same circuit where the previous season had concluded, Estoril in Portugal.

Portgual’s Estoril Circuit hosted Round 2 of the 1985 championship. Image: Car Throttle

As the championship returned to Europe, Ferrari surprised the F1 fraternity by firing the colourful Frenchman, René Arnoux. The reason for his dismissal remain a mystery to this day.

His replacement was the promising Swede Stefan Johansson, who had previously been signed to drive for Toleman in 1985, but found himself a free agent when the British team lost their tyre contract.

Further down the grid, Jonathan Palmer made his debut in the German Zakspeed outfit.

Qualifying was dominated by the Lotus of Ayrton Senna, with the Brazilian achieving his first career pole position. Senna’s incredible pace was demonstrated by the fact that Alain Prost was the only driver able to record a time within half a second of him.


Race day dawned wet and cold. There was drama even before the race got underway, as Nigel Mansell spun his Williams-Honda on the way to the grid. The Englishman would be forced to start from the pit lane.

When the lights turned green Senna got away first from his team mate, Elio de Angelis. The Williams teams’ terrible start continued when Keke Rosberg stalled, the Finn then rubbed salt into the wound by spinning as he tried to make up for lost time.

Senna led away in the torrential conditions in Portugal

Senna was peerless as he stormed away into the distance. The Brazilian had already demonstrated his proficiency in the wet conditions at Monaco a year earlier.

Now revelling in the driveability of the Lotus Renault 97T, he proceeded to pull out a 10 second lead over de Angelis, Prost and Michele Alboreto in the Ferrari.

Further down the field, Stefan Johansson’s debut for Ferrari was severely compromised when he was punted off by Riccardo Patrese’s Alfa Romeo, ending the Italian’s race on the spot.

Double-World Champion Nelson Piquet was going backwards, the conditions exposing the deficiencies of the wet Pirelli tyres on his Brabham BMW.

Another former World Champion was in trouble was Keke Rosberg, as his miserable day finally came to an end when he spun coming out of the final corner on lap 16.

The stricken Williams laid in the middle of the track for several laps as the marshals struggled to clear the hazard.

After 20 laps, Senna had lapped the entire field up to ninth place, as the rain got heavier. Alain Prost spun off on the start/finish straight and was out of the race after damaging the McLaren’s rear wing.

Inheriting Prost’s third place was Michele Alboreto. The Italian began to pressure his compatriot de Angelis and bravely dived down the inside into turn one to take second.

De Angelis was lucky to survive an excursion into the gravel two corners later. McLaren’s run of eight consecutive points finishes ended when reigning World Champion, Niki Lauda retired with engine failure.

On Lap 67, the race reached the two-hour mark and Senna started his last lap, the Brazilian had been signalling to the stewards to stop the race just as Prost had done at Monaco in 1984.

However, the race carried on in the atrocious conditions. Senna crossed the line to take his first ever Formula One victory after leading every lap, and setting the fastest lap in the process. It was the first win for the Lotus team since 1982.

Michele Alboreto brought his Ferrari home in second place, the only driver to escape been lapped by the winner. Patrick Tambay’s Renault got the better of Elio de Angelis to take the final podium place.

Nigel Mansell climbed to fifth from starting in the pit lane and Stefan Bellof’s Tyrrell got the final point in sixth, a remarkable performance considering he had driven the majority of the race with a broken front wing.

His prodigious talent had been clear, but Ayrton Senna had broken his duck at his 17th attempt, the first of 41 victories for the mercurial Brazilian. For many, he remains the greatest Formula One driver of all time.

Video Highlights

If you want to see the race for yourself, Formula 1’s YouTube Channel recently uploaded video highlights of the 1985 Portuguese GP:

Grid Talk Podcast

For more content relating to Ayrton Senna, Grid Talk’s George Howson, Owen Davies, Alex Booth tributed Senna’s Formula 1 career in a special edition of the Grid Talk podcast:

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