Stepping Stone - 1984 Toleman TG184 Hart
Toleman was a small British team which entered Formula 1 in 1980, after taking a 1-2 in the European Formula 2 championship the year before. Initially plans were made to run a Lancia designed turbocharged engine, but Toleman settled for a turbocharged version of the familiar Hart 4-cylinder F2 unit. Their first car, the TG181, was an overweight and underpowered design, failing to qualify for Grands Prix on several occasions. After struggling for two seasons the firm’s second chassis (TG183) netted them a respectable 9th placing in the 1983 championship results.
For 1984 Toleman looked to keep their positive momentum. Work had started on an all-new car which looked promising, but would take some time to complete. In the meantime the team focused on getting to know their hot new driver, a young Brazilian by the name of Ayrton Senna da Silva.
Senna was the reigning champion of Formula 3, and had met with a tidal wave of interest from front running teams like McLaren, Williams, Lotus and Brabham. Despite the massive interest, these teams did not have a race seat ready for him and could not offer him more than a testing contract. Unconcerned with the lack of success and reputation the much smaller Toleman team had, Senna decided to sign with them for 1984.
Toleman was the only team willing to put him in a seat from the start, unhindered by major sponsors who wanted drivers of a specific nationality, like Lotus and Brabham. Signing with Toleman also gave him the freedom and attention he desired as a lead driver. Partnering him would be Venezuelan 350 and 750cc motorcycle champion Johnny Cecotto, who wasn’t much of a threat in terms of pace
The team was forced to use an updated version of the 1983 car for the first four rounds of the season. By the fitfh round at Dijon-Prenois, France the new car was ready. The TG184 was in essence a evolution of the TG183, keeping the peculiar double rear wing setup. The biggest changes were the movement of the radiators to the sidepods from the unusual front wing mounted position used in the TG183, as well as a more powerful Hart 415T engine capable of producing 608 horsepower. This power was handled through a Hewland 5-speed manual transmission.
The 415T‘s roots in the lesser Formula 2 category became apparent in the race however, as both cars dropped out with turbo failure. Senna’s car lasted 35 laps, with Cecotto out after just 22. The car’s pace was lacking as well, as Senna had qualified 13th and Cecotto managed only 18th
The next round was the famous Monaco Grand Prix. During qualifying and practice all looked well, with clear skies and sunny weather. The Toleman crew remained consistent, with Senna 13th on the grid from Cecotto in 18th. On race day torrential rain pounded down on the track with righteous fury, forcing the organizers to postpone the start by a full 45 minutes.
During this time double World Champion and McLaren ace Niki Lauda convinced Bernie Ecclestone to flood the tunnels as well. Because it was the only dry bit of road on the track, it caused a very dangerous situation for the cars coming in from the poring rain at very high speed. The greasy dry road and the car’s soaking wet tires would have turned it into a lethal skid pad. Ecclestone complied and had the track hosed down by a firetruck.
When the race was finally started mayhem erupted almost instantly. Ferrari’s Rene Arnoux (FRA) and hit Derek Warwick’s Renault in the first corner, spinning the Englishman directly into the path of his team mate Patrick Tambay (FRA). Both drivers suffered leg injuries. Johnny Cecotto ended his race early, spinning off on the first lap. Corrado Fabi stalled his Brabham just before the tunnel and severely held up McLaren driver Alain Prost, who was fighting for the lead with Lotus’ Nigel Mansell (GB).
As cars dropped out left and right, skidding off due to a largely flooded track, Alain Prost found himself in a comfortable lead. Behind him Ayrton Senna had climbed up to second place, showing blinding pace in the appalling wet conditions. Prost had a sizable gap, but his TAG-Porsche V6 had intermittent misfires and his carbon ceramic brakes were starting to lock up because of a lack of heat. The conditions worsened even further as Senna gained big chunks of time on the Frenchman. Behind him, German Stefan Bellof was also on the move in his naturally aspirated Tyrrell-Ford, using his car’s linear power delivery to lap even faster than Senna was. Both men were driving on the very edge in their bid to catch and kill the McLaren.
Prost had meanwhile had enough of the dangerous weather, and signaled to the race officials to stop the race on lap 29. Two laps later he repeated his plea, slowing down more and more because of the flooded track. Even though the rain was subsiding, clerk of the course and F1-legend Jacky Ickx red flagged the race at the end of lap 32, just as Ayrton Senna passed a stopping Prost meters before the start/finish line.
The red flag meant official race results were taken from the lap before, which resulted in Prost 1st, Senna 2nd and Bellof 3rd. As the race did not reach over half distance, the drivers were awarded half points. Jacky Ickx was suspended from race control duties afterwards, as he had made the decision to stop the race without consulting with the stewards. Later in the season Stefan Bellof’s Tyrrell was found to be underweight, giving Ferrari’s Rene Arnoux 3rd place. Even though he narrowly missed out on his first race win, Ayrton Senna had put himself clearly on the F1 map. The TG184 was nowhere near competitive, but his god-like wet weather skills made it work perfectly.
After all the controversy and turmoil caused by the Monaco Grand Prix, it was time for Montreal, Canada. Senna showed his talent once more qualifying in 9th in front of Cecotto in a low 20th. The race was reassuringly uneventful for the team. A decent 7th placing for Senna and an impressive 9th for Cecotto helped keep spirits up.
The high spirits were stifled at the tight street circuit of Detroit. Qualifying was business as usual. Senna 7th, Cecotto 17th. While barreling down the main straight in top gear Senna’s right rear suspension collapsed, sending the car into the tire barrier. He suffered no serious injuries. Team mate Johnny Cecotto managed a full lap more when his clutch gave out on him.
Another bumpy and twisty street circuit followed in Dallas, Texas. Qualifying pace improved for Ayrton Senna, taking the TG184 to sixth on the grid. Cecotto also improved, managing 15th. Both cars again failed to finish. Johnny Cecotto spun off on lap 25, while his team mate suffered a broken drive shaft on lap 47.
The Toleman team was feeling the pressure now with four consecutive non-finishes, eager to improve at Brands Hatch. Unfortunately they would receive another blow to their campaign in qualifying, when Johnny Cecotto had a terrible accident. He slammed head on into the wall at 240 kph, breaking both legs in the process and ending his Formula 1 career. Senna meanwhile remained consistent, 7th on the grid. A very spirited drive from the young Brazilian saw him an amazing 3rd at the end of the race.
With Cecotto recovering in hospital and no immediate replacement read, Ayrton Senna soldiered on alone. The TG184 was updated in the meantime, receiving a more conventional single rear wing design. A string of mechanical retirements followed in the German, Austrian and Dutch Grands Prix. The new rear wing breaking, a loss of oil pressure and an all-out engine blowup meant no further points for the team.
In a fit of total insanity, Toleman decided to replace Ayrton Senna with the more experienced Italian Pierluigi Martini for the Italian Grand Prix. Joining Martini would be future Ferrari F1-driver Stefan Johansson of Sweden, who replaced Cecotto’s empty seat in the second car. Toleman’s impeccable judgement was confirmed when Martini failed to even qualify for the race. Johansson did deliver however, and scored an admirable 4th placing.
Realizing their colossal mistake, Toleman put Ayrton Senna back in the car for the next round at the new Nürburgring GP-Strecke. Senna qualified only 12th on the grid, suffering from a lack of power from his uncompetitive Hart engine. His inexperience showed at the start, as he caused a major collision by rear-ending the Williams of 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg (FIN). Along with Senna and Rosberg, the shunt lead to the retirements of Marc Surer (Arrows), Gerhard Berger (ATS) and Piercarlo Ghinzani (Osella).
The final round of the 1984 Formula 1 World Championship was the Portuguese Grand Prix held at Estoril. Ayrton Senna set an amazing time in qualifying, scoring 3rd on the grid. Team mate Stefan Johansson proved much faster than Johnny Cecotto, coming in 10th. Senna delivered another great drive by holding on to his podium position. Johansson lost a place, finishing 11th.
The Toleman TG184 was an underfunded and uncompetitive car which happened to feature a very competitive driver. It gave a rising legend his first big break on his own terms. Ayrton Senna scored three podium placings with a car that had no right to be there, allowing him to establish a name for himself in the conservative world of Formula 1.
As a result of this success he was picked up by the more competitive Team Lotus for 1985, truly launching his career. But none of his tremendous later successes would have been possible without a certain quirky, shoddily built, double-winged car from Whitney, Oxfordshire.