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A championship won by half a point

October 18, 2014
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Thirty years ago this weekend, a mere 44,000 fans turned up to watch the finale of a world championship that was ultimately won by half a point. You couldn’t have wished for a closer contest between McLaren’s Niki Lauda and Alain Prost but it was not enough to draw the locals 20 miles down the road from Lisbon.

This was the first time Estoril had staged a Grand Prix and the first in Portugal since 1960. Paint was still drying when the F1 teams assembled for the 16th and final time in 1984, modifications to the existing track precluding pre-race testing (then very much the norm in the days when a simulator was thought to be some sort of sex toy.)

When an extra day of practice was added on the Thursday, it seemed the police outnumbered the spectators. Keen to create an impression of authority, the officers, complete with batons swinging from their belts and large dogs on leashes, provided security that was unnecessary, certainly for F1 people more intent on sorting this championship than causing a riot.

Matters would reach an absurd level on Friday when heavy rain and a flash flood tested an already inadequate drainage system to the limit and beyond. With practice suspended, mechanics began an impromptu game of soccer on the main straight.

This was clearly not on the police manifesto of acceptable behaviour. Truncheons were drawn and the ball was confiscated by an officer with even more swagger than his young colleagues. Knowing about police matters (although not yet a Special Constable on the Isle of Man), Nigel Mansell vaulted the pit wall and demanded the ball back. An international incident was avoided when the ball was returned and an over-excited police dog bit its handler on the backside – much to the amusement of spectators who clearly had no more love for the overbearing gendarmerie than we did.

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