Stefan Bellof: Monaco magician and ‘Ring raider
Who is the King of Monaco? Technically it used to be Prince Ranier, and is now Prince Albert II – but there are strong arguments for “Mr Monaco” Graham Hill, or Ayrton Senna, perhaps Michael Schumacher too.
Senna’s career took off with a stunning performance at Monaco in appalling conditions in the tank of a Toleman in 1984. That race is remembered for many things; Jacky Ickx stopping the race early; Nigel Mansell crashing out of the lead; Senna’s storming charge…. But often overlooked is Stefan Bellof’s race.
The young German, in a Tyrrell-Cosworth, qualified 20th and last on the grid, edging Marc Surer’s Arrows by just a tenth of a second. His team-mate, Martin Brundle, had an almighty crash at Tabac in qualifying, and while concussed, was lucky to emerge unhurt.
So with one Tyrrell out, and the other qualifying last, it didn’t look like being a memorable day for Uncle Ken’s team. The tight confines of the Monaco track and the difficulty of passing looked like making it a long and unrewarding day for the team.
Bellof, as gifted as they came, and the nimble handling of the Tyrrell changed all that. Torrential rain changed all that. Bellof defied all the expectations… By the end of lap 1, he’d made up seven places! By lap 16, he was sixth, in the points, and still flying. By the early finish due to a red flag on lap 31 because of deteriorating conditions, he was third, catching Senna, who was catching eventual winner Alain Prost at over three seconds per lap. And Bellof was catching Senna when the race was halted.
With another few laps, we could be remembering the day Stefan Bellof won his first Grand Prix.
In sportscars, though, Bellof had already made his mark. Teamed with Derek Bell in the works Rothmans Porsche, the young German was partner to a legend. It really was a combination of speed and exuberance matched with speed and experience.
“Stefan was amazing,” says Bell. “I must never take away what he did. That was uninhibited youth. He was flying, completely in control of what he was doing, although he was a bit out of control in his mind, charming and lovely kid as he was, I always felt he needed someone to control him. He was a wonderful talent and he needed to be nurtured, he needed to be controlled – and he would have been magnificent.”
Ken Tyrrell was that man, and the German dovetailed his F1 season with a drive in World Sportcars, under Ken’s guiding eyes.
In 1984, the World Sportscar Championship went to the Nurburgring Nordschleife – which turned out to be the final World Championship event to be run on the 14-mile track. Bellof’s pole position lap not only remains the unofficial fastest lap of the ‘Ring, on that day it was more than five seconds faster than anyone else could manage….
In the race too, he flew in more ways than one. Bellof set the fastest lap – 14 seconds slower than his qualifying time – but that is still the fastest official lap of the track Jackie Stewart named “Green Hell”.
Then, at the fearsome Pflanzgarten, leading by a margin, air got under the car, and he rolled out of the race. Unhurt, but yet again youth had beaten exuberance.
In 1985 at Spa, a need to lead ended the life of one of Germany’s most promising talents. A move to pass Jacky Ickx into Eau Rouge ended in tragedy, and Bellof died, aged just 27.
Few doubt, like Bell, that Bellof had everything to be one of the sport’s greats. One person best to comment is BBC TV’s Martin Brundle, a fierce rival of Ayrton Senna in Formula 3, and a team-mate to Bellof at Tyrrell in F1 as well as racing against him in sportscars.
“I have no doubt that over a single lap, Stefan was quicker than me,” admitted Brundle recently. “But as it is with Ayrton, the good ones are taken from us far too young.”