The 1985 French Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held at Paul Ricard on July 7, 1985. It was the seventh round of the 1985 FIA Formula One World Championship. It was the 63rd French Grand Prix and the ninth to be held at Paul Ricard. The race was held over 53 laps of the 5.81 km (3.61 mi) circuit for a total race distance of 307.93 kilometres (191.33 miles).
This was the last time the entire Paul Ricard circuit was used for the French Grand Prix. In 1986 a shorter, 3.813 km (2.369 mi) 'club' version was used after Elio de Angelis' fatal accident at the circuit during a test session. This was seen as a knee jerk reaction to the crash by the FIA as it was known that the circuit itself wasn't to blame for the crash. The rear wing of de Angelis' Brabham BT55 had broken off at high speed going into the Verriere bends at the end of the pit straight, resulting in a complete loss of downforce at the rear of the car causing it to crash.
Nelson Piquet won the race driving a Brabham BT54-BMW. It turned out to be the Brabham team's last victory in Formula One. It was also the first Grand Prix victory since their return to Formula One for Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli. Piquet won the race by six seconds over pole winner Keke Rosberg driving a Williams FW10-Honda. Third was French driver Alain Prost driving a McLaren MP4/2B-TAG Porsche. Prost's podium finish allowed him to close to within five points of championship leader Michele Alboreto (Ferrari).
Williams driver, and 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg, broke the Lotus-Renault stranglehold on 1985 pole positions by putting his car on pole position at Paul Ricard, averaging 140.561 mph (226.612 km/h). Ayrton Senna was second in his Lotus-Renault, followed by the Ferrari 156/85 of Michele Alboreto and the McLaren-TAG of Prost. The third row of the grid was taken by the first of the Pirelli runners in Nelson Piquet, while defending World Champion (and 1984 French Grand Prix winner) Niki Lauda (McLaren) rounded out the top six. The factory Renault's of Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick qualified 9th and 10th. Tambay was driving an updated version of the Renault RE60, dubbed the RE60B, while Warwick was in the older RE60.
Nigel Mansell (Williams) had an accident at the high speed Signes corner, located at the end of the 1.8 km long Mistral Straight, during practice, and he suffered a concussion which kept him out of the race. Mansell had broken the record for the fastest accident in Formula One history when he went off at over 200 mph (322 km/h).
The BMW straight 4cyl engine, rated at about 1,000 bhp (746 kW; 1,014 PS), showed its worth on the Mistral Straight, the most distinguishing feature of the Paul Ricard Circuit, when it propelled the Brabham of Swiss driver Marc Surer to a season fastest 338 km/h (210 mph) during qualifying. This compared to the slowest car, the 550 bhp (410 kW; 558 PS) Tyrrell-Ford of Stefan Bellof which could only manage 277 km/h (172 mph) on the Mistral.
The French Grand Prix also marked the first time the Tyrrell team used the Renault turbocharged engine with Martin Brundle having use of it for the race mounted in a new Tyrrell 014 chassis while team mate Stefan Bellof still used the Cosworth DFY powered 012. It allowed Brundle to qualify some four seconds faster than his team mate. Brundle telling in qualifying that at one point while both were on a quick lap, he had followed the Bellof's 012 onto the Mistral about 100 yards back, and by the time he reached Signes, Bellof was nothing more than a dot in his mirrors. The top speed of the new turbo powered car was around 310 km/h (193 mph), some 33 km/h (21 mph) faster than the older V8.
Tyrrell were the last F1 team to change from a naturally aspirated engine to a turbocharged engine having done a deal with Renault in late 1984 but the new 014 was not ready until this race. As the lowest team in the Renault pecking order behind the factory team, Lotus and Ligier, Tyrrell were only supplied with Renault's 1984 engine, the EF4.
At the start, Keke Rosberg and Ayrton Senna got to the Verriere Bends in their respective grid positions, followed by Nelson Piquet, who made an excellent start from 5th, Michele Alboreto, Elio de Angelis, Niki Lauda, Gerhard Berger and Alain Prost who made a poor start from 6th place.
As the laps went on, the hot weather began to affect some of the cars. Ligier driver Jacques Laffite's Renault engine blew up on Lap 3, Laffite's teammate Andrea De Cesaris retired on Lap 5 with steering problems and championship leader Alboreto's race ended on the next lap from fourth place as a turbocharger expired on his Ferrari.
But Nelson Piquet, who so far had little success in 1985, started to run at a higher pace than the entire field. Armed with the most powerful engine in Formula One, the BMW straight-4 and better tires than Rosberg and Senna, he was able to pass his fellow countryman easily on the Mistral Straight and on Lap 11 he passed Rosberg (whose powerful Honda engine made it difficult for Piquet to pass on the straight) at the corner after Signes. Piquet then started to pull away from Rosberg, who had wrecked his tires pushing hard early on. Berger later retired on lap 20 after a collision with Pierluigi Martini.
Senna went into the pits with problems with his Lotus and was slipping out of contention. Lauda and Prost both passed de Angelis with some difficulty and they then caught and fought with Rosberg for a long period of time. Although the McLaren cars were faster, the more powerful Honda engine in Rosberg's Williams allowed him to pull away on the faster parts of the high-speed French circuit. The battle went on and on, and Piquet was getting further and further away.
While pushing hard to make up time, Senna had a huge accident at the extremely fast Signes corner at the end of the long Mistral straight when his Lotus's Renault engine blew up, slipped on his own oil that was leaking onto the rear tyres, spun backwards at extremely high speed and went into the catch fencing and the Armco guard-rails. He emerged unscathed albeit a few bruises.
The Rosberg/Lauda/Prost battle continued, but on Lap 31 Lauda's gearbox failed on the pit straight and he was out of the race in front of the pits. Prost finally got by Rosberg later on at the Verriere bends; and the pace started to hot up as Prost began to push very hard, catching Piquet (who was now 23 seconds ahead) at 1.5 to 2 seconds a lap. Rosberg then went into the pits for new rubber and he stormed after Prost and Piquet.
But Piquet, with BMW power and his Pirelli tyres working well for the first time in the season, was able to hold off both Prost and Rosberg to take what would be Brabham's last victory. Rosberg caught and passed Prost (who had eased his pace) on the last lap. The 2nd Ferrari driver Stefan Johannson (who had charged through the field from 15th on the grid and was battling with de Angelis) took fourth pace a little over a tenth of a second ahead of de Angelis, and Patrick Tambay in the Renault rounded out the points.
Keke Rosberg overtook Alain Prost on the last lap but the computers recording the final results listed Prost finishing second ahead of Rosberg in third.Race leaders: Keke Rosberg (1-10), Nelson Piquet (11-53)
Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.