The day Senna and Toleman were robbed | Thank Frankel it's Friday

12th April 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Ted Toleman died this week aged 86 and whenever I read that name one thought comes to me: the day his team was robbed of certain victory at the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, the alleged injustices of which still rile surviving team members to this day almost 40 years later.


His team, Toleman Motorsport first went racing in Formula Ford 2000 in 1977, graduating to Formula 2 in 1978 and in 1980 building their first homegrown chassis, designed by relatively unknown Rory Byrne who’d go on to achieve greatness in his partnership with Ross Brawn, Michael Schumacher and Jean Todt at Ferrari. That year Tolemans came first and second in the European F2 Championship and the big time beckoned.

The early years were tough: on the rare occasions the cars managed to qualify to race, they usually broke before the chequered flag had fallen. But in 1984 the previous year’s F3 Champion replaced Derek Warwick and his name was Ayrton Senna. That year’s car, the TG184, was late but worth the wait: although it used essentially the same monocoque and suspension as its predecessor, a new aero package increased downforce by around 25 per cent. The new recruit was delighted.

But Monaco was only his second race in the car, and his sixth in any Formula 1 car, and improved though it was, the tiny team’s best effort with its four cylinder Hart engine was only good enough for 13th on the grid, almost 2.5 seconds slower than the McLaren’s MP4/2 powered by Porsche’s world beating TAG turbo V6 engine and driven by Alain Prost. Sunday was probably already looking like a long afternoon.


Until that is, it started raining. Prost led the 26 car grid away, but the more it rained, the less comfortable he became; by contrast Senna was not so inconvenienced by his engine’s lack of power on those tight, damp streets and, as he’d prove to Prost all over again at the end of his career at Donington in 1993, as at home in such conditions as his rival was all at sea.

When he overtook Niki Lauda’s McLaren to take second place, the gap to Prost was 31 seconds, but the race was less than half done and at the rate his Toleman started to reel in his McLaren it was clear that so long as it stayed both reliable and out of the wall, this race was only going to have one conclusion. One lap Senna had reduced the deficit by three seconds, then the next it would be four, and the same again the lap after that. Those of us glued to our televisions saw none of this, the French TV network responsible for providing coverage keeping their cameras glued to the Frenchman in the McLaren.

So we all saw Prost gesticulating as he passed the finish line, clearly attempting to have the race stopped. The Clerk of the Course was one Jacky Ickx, then a contracted works Porsche driver who was later accused of gifting the win to Prost in his Porsche-powered McLaren. Without referring to FIA officials, first, the red flag was waved, showing the race was being stopped, followed by the chequered flag signalling that it was over. Prost stopped on the line and while some questioned whether Senna actually overtook him or not before that line, it’s all fairly academic because in such circumstances the results are always taken from the lap before, so the official record shows Prost finishing a comfortable 7.4 seconds ahead of Senna.


But do you know what? All concerned parties lost that day. Senna and Toleman were denied the victory they undoubtedly deserved while, rightly or wrongly, Ickx’s name was so dragged through the mud he took the unprecedented measure of suing FISA boss Jean-Marie Balestre for defamation. But do you know who lost most? None other than Alain Prost and not just because his desperate attempts to stop a race he was about to lose cast him in a somewhat unfavourable light. 

It goes like this: Prost wins the race, but because the race is stopped before 75 per cent of its distance has been completed, only half points are awarded, so he goes home 4.5 points richer than when he arrived. Had he let Senna through and Ickx not stopped the race, Prost would have finished second and scored six points because even if the equally hard-charging Stefan Bellof and caught and overtaken him, his Tyrrell would later be disqualified. So actually the race being stopped cost Prost 1.5 points.

So what? Well ‘so’ quite a lot as it happens: spool forward to the end of the year where we discover Alain Prost is beaten to the title by Niki Lauda, by just half of one single point. What happened at Monaco in 1984 might have cost Senna his first F1 race win, but it cost Prost his first F1 World Championship. Poetic justice perhaps?

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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