By Carlo Carluccio
Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article and please don't forget to comment.
I used to have a 1/18th model of a Benetton B186. I loved the simple lines, the outrageous sponsor logos and the unfathomable driver combination of Gerhard Berger and balding old-before-his-time Teo Fabi.
The 1986 Austrian GP witnessed the Benetton drivers dominate qualifying with their BMW power. Contemporary reports suggested their power output was between 1,350bhp to 1,500bhp from a 1.5litre turbocharged engine running on ‘rocket fuel’. The average speed of 150mph around this daunting track placed it beside Hockenheim and Monza as a testament to the glory of speed.
F1 regulations being what they were at the time - if you ever stood in the pit garage whilst the teams refuelled their cars - it was advisable you had an industrial grade chemical mask to prevent the toxicity from entering your lungs.
I had the dubious experience at Brands Hatch in 1986 and the only comparison I could make is a ‘phaal’ curry I once consumed. I say consumed but in truth a single mouthful burnt my mouth for a complete afternoon and my exit burnt in similar fashion for practically 72 hours. A word of warning – if the waiting staff pause to watch you eat a dish and in the periphery of your eyesight you spy the chef – just pay the bill and walk away.
Back to Austria once more. Tirok Kurve, Bosch Kurve, Jochen Rindt Kurve – all names of fearsome corners that had little in the way of protection from the surroundings and were approached at over 200mph. The circuit needed a car that handled well, a surfeit of power to brush off the varying gradients around the track and drivers who welcomed the personal challenge.
In 1987 that challenge took an unexpected turn. During qualifying, Stefan Johansson crested a rise at over 140mph when he struck an adult deer that was attempting to escape from the noise of the cars. The impact killed the animal instantly and destroyed the Mclaren car. Fortunately the Swede escaped with headaches and neck pains. After X-rays at the local hospital he was allowed to race the next day and finished in 7th position.
Perhaps of more significance to the history of this event were the two start-line accidents. The first start saw Martin Brundle, Jonathan Palmer, Phillipe Strieff and Piercarlo Ghinzani crash into each other which halted the proceedings. Once the debris was cleared away the grid lined up again behind the Williams-Hondas of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell.
Except it seemed that Mansell’s place had been stolen by Murray Walker as it crawled away with clutch issues. Eight cars were eliminated in the ensuing pile-up so once again the beleaguered marshals set to work to prepare the track for a third attempt.
Two hours later the cars lined up on the starting grid once again. ‘Third time lucky’ goes the legend and the British driver would triumph over his Brazilian teammate as they lapped the entire field. Sadly this would be the last race for the next decade and when the Austrian Grand Prix returned it would be an emasculated version of its former self.