Formula 1 was a very different place the last time the coastal resort of Zandvoort hosted a grand prix. Three-time world champion Niki Lauda was in the twilight of his career, doing battle with rising stars like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Nelson Piquet was right in the middle of his illustrious F1 career, heading towards a tough end to his time at Brabham.
Not for the first time, the 1985 edition was hit by rain on Saturday, which meant the grid was formed based on Friday practice times. That handed pole to Piquet in the Brabham, ahead of the Williams of Keke Rosberg. McLaren's Alain Prost and Lotus driver Ayrton Senna shared the second row.
Teo Fabi was an unlikely fifth on the grid in his Toleman, alongside Renault driver Patrick Tambay. Nigel Mansell was seventh in the second Williams, while reigning world champion Niki Lauda had his work cut out starting from tenth in the McLaren.
Piquet may have benefitted from Saturday’s washout, but that all came undone at the start of a dry race on Sunday. The Brazilian stalled his BMW engine, handing the lead to Rosberg.
The Finn managed to keep a reasonable gap to second-placed Senna in the opening stages, while the McLarens vaulted up the grid and soon dispatched Fabi’s Toleman.
Senna would then suffer niggling engine issues with his Lotus-Renault, which allowed both Prost and Lauda past. Meanwhile Fabi retired with a faulty rear wheel bearing, ending his hopes for a dream result.
The 70-lap race of attrition would soon claim another victim. On lap 21 leader Rosberg ground to a halt with a smoking Honda engine.
That appeared to be the sign for Lauda to make a pitstop for fresh tyres. Lauda was stuck behind McLaren teammate Prost while Senna, who had managed to get going again, starting ramping up the pressure.
With Prost leading from Senna, Lauda rejoined in eight, but the Austrian’s afternoon was made a whole lot easier by the retirement of both Renaults.
Following Senna's pitstop for new rubber, Lauda moved back up to third. Ferrari’s Michele Alboreto made a brief cameo in second place, splitting the McLarens before his pitstop.
Prost was next in at the end of lap 33, but suffered a disastrous pitstop and fell back behind Senna but in front of Alboreto.
That left a cunning Lauda out in front at the halfway point, effectively undercutting his rivals before that term was even a thing in Formula 1.
Prost quickly caught Senna and passed the Brazilian into Turn One on lap 47, and then set his sights on his teammate.
As the Frenchman closed the gap to Lauda, the tens of thousands of fans crowding the Dutch dunes were excitedly anticipating a showdown between a world champion of the past and one of the future.
With no team orders at McLaren, Lauda made sure to take a central line going into the corners to block Prost on the narrow Zandvoort track. Prost found no way through and crossed the line two tenths behind Lauda.
Lauda took his 25th career win, putting him on equal terms with Jim Clark. Prost and Senna joined him on the podium, a sure sign of things to come. Alboreto was fourth ahead of Elio de Angelis and Mansell.
It would also prove Lauda’s last win and his only podium finish in a tough swansong season at McLaren.
Niki Lauda, McLaren
Rainer W. Schlegelmilch
Elio de Angelis, Lotus 97T Renault
Jacques Laffite, Ligier JS25 Renault
Rainer W. Schlegelmilch
Teo Fabi, Toleman TG185 Hart
Stefan Bellof, Tyrrell 014
Niki Lauda, McLaren MP4/2B TAG Porsche
Alain Prost leads Niki Lauda, McLaren MP4/2B TAG Porsche
Niki Lauda leads Alain Prost, McLaren MP4-2B TAG
Niki Lauda, McLaren, Alain Prost, McLaren, Ayrton Senna, Lotus
The 1985 Dutch Grand Prix was not just Lauda’s last stand, but also Zandvoort’s final F1 race.
While improvements were made to the circuit in the wake of several fatal accidents, including those of Piers Courage and Roger Williamson, the track was largely unchanged and room for improvement was limited due to the adjacent housing estate.
After Formula 1’s departure the track was effectively cut in half and reduced to a club circuit, keeping the first sector intact but bypassing fearsome corners like Scheivlak, Tunnel Oost and Bos Uit.
It would take another decade for Zandvoort to reinstate part of its old layout in a new international circuit, but by then the F1 dream was long gone.
A shock return to the Formula 1 calendar was to follow this very weekend, on the back of local hero Max Verstappen’s meteoric rise in the sport.
With the COVID-19 pandemic putting the brakes on the world of sport, the orange-clad fans will have to wait a little while longer to climb their favourite dunes.