In today’s ultra-precise Formula One, it may seem almost unfathomable for a driver to run out of fuel prior to the end of a race, but in previous generations, it wasn’t a completely unusual situation.
A reduction of allowed race fuel countered Formula One’s powerful turbo’s, producing mileage runs to the flag that were not completely unlike the tyre preservation races of today.
And like last year’s Chinese Grand Prix that saw Kimi Raikkonen drop from 2nd to 14th in three laps when his Pirelli’s fell away, it was just a conceivable during the 1985 season that a driver could fall down the order by just pushing the fuel count a little too hard.
Toward the end of the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna was leading from the Ferrari driver Stefan Johansson, with the Brazilian ace on the verge of ensuring Lotus securing a collective spot on the top of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship’s for the first time since 1978.
With Senna in control, the race seem sown up, until the Renault-powered Lotus spluttered just over three laps from the end, allowing Johansson into a popular lead, cheered on by the ecstatic Tifosi. The joy would be short-lived though – within a lap of claiming the lead, Johansson’s car also ran dry thanks to an electrical malfunction that had upped the fuel drainage.
This time, Alain Prost drew into the lead in the red-and-white McLaren ahead of Elio de Angelis and Thierry Boutsen, while the distant Patrick Tambay, Niki Lauda and Nigel Mansell rounded out the top six; however there would be near disaster for Boutsen, who also ran out of fuel, but did enough to push his car over the line to solidify 3rd place at least.
As all of this was transpiring, Nelson Piquet pulled off in his fuel starved Brabham, while the luckless Martin Brundle and Derek Warwick also ran short less than three laps from the end.
Eventually, Prost slowed to take the flag, eventually stopping on his slow down lap – only to later be disqualified when it was discovered his McLaren was 2 kg’s underweight. With Prost out, de Angelis was declared the winner, promoting Boutsen to 2nd and Tambay to 3rd. Lauda and Mansell were next on the classification with the retired Johansson taking a point for 6th place.
Although it made for an unpredictable end to the Grand Prix, it was also a complete farce.
It would prove to be a poignant celebration for de Angelis – his second win would be his last. The Roman was killed a year later testing for Brabham at Paul Ricard, signalling the end for the original big power turbo era in F1.