On 2nd August 1985, Formula 1 arrived at the Nürburgring for the German Grand Prix. It was a new circuit, just 4.542 metres long, no longer the legendary Nordschleife. Series leader on 37 points was Michele Alboreto. In the first eight races of the year with the Ferrari 156-85 designed by Harvey Postlethwaite, who had replaced Mauro Forghieri, the Italian had won in Canada, as well as scoring four second places and one third. His main rival was second placed Alain Prost in the McLaren, who boasted three victories in Brazil, Monaco and Great Britain, and two third place finishes. He was just two points down.
In qualifying on Friday, surprising everyone was the small Hart-powered Toleman driven by Teo Fabi who took provisional pole with 1.17.429. Everyone else had a difficult session. Some had tyre problems like Alboreto, some reported engine problems like the young Ayrton Senna in the Lotus, some had brake issues like Prost, and some were fighting against the set-up of their cars like Nelson Piquet in the Brabham. At the end, a super lap from Ferrari’s Stefan Johansson secured him second place in 1.18.616, 1.2 seconds off Fabi, while Alboreto could do no better than eighth.
At the end of the day, lots of people were pleased for Toleman, because Teo Fabi and his team were well liked by everyone in the paddock, and lots of people believed in the potential of the young star designer Rory Byrne who, ironically, missed that special day as he had the flu. The Italian driver knew that Friday’s pole position might not count for much, saying, “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. It will be hard to maintain this position. It wouldn’t be bad at all if it rained.”
Free practice was at 10 o’clock the following day as rain began to fall on the Eifel circuit. At the time when qualifying should have started, the track was completely waterlogged and so Friday’s times were decisive, with Fabi and Johansson making up an unusual front row.
At the start of the warm-up lap, the Toleman was making a strange noise so that the blood ran cold in the English team. Shortly after, when the lights turned to green, Fabi hardly moved from the spot and realised he had a clutch problem. Johansson got away well off the front row but Senna, Keke Rosberg in the Williams and Alboreto all did better than him. Given the unusual start, many cars arrived at the first corner at the same time and so there were some collisions. One involved the two Ferraris. Alboreto locked his wheels and could not avoid hitting Johansson’s back right wheel with his left front. The Swede came off worst and had to drive round slowly to the pits on three wheels. He came out again just before being lapped, but his race had been compromised.
Senna got ahead of Rosberg on the first lap, while Alboreto led a pack of three formed of Prost and Elio De Angelis in the second Lotus. On lap 16, the race leader was having problems with his tyres and had to concede the lead to Senna. The Brazilian was forced to retire on lap 27 with a drive shaft failure, leaving Alboreto in the lead, although after the Ferrari man pitted, Rosberg was back in front.
On lap 44, the Williams once again had brake and tyre problems, which allowed Alboreto and Prost to retake the first two positions. It was the duel that everyone had been waiting for between the two at the top of the championship table. Prost seemed to study the situation waiting to launch a decisive attack, but instead, on lap 58 the unexpected happened: the Frenchman spun at the last corner and lost nearly 20 seconds.
Alboreto was grateful and made the most of the advantage going on to a trouble-free win ahead of the Frenchman and his compatriot Jacques Laffite in the Ligier. There was a huge party in the paddock for the Ferrari team who led both championships. Michele had a five-point advantage over Prost, while the Scuderia were 19 points ahead of McLaren. For Alboreto, it was his fifth and last victory in Formula 1, his third with Scuderia Ferrari.