The first ever Minardi Formula 1 car left the factory in Via Spallanzani 21 in the small town of Faenza, near Bologna in the north of Italy, in 1984. While there were those who advised against the step, Gian Carlo Minardi was keen to get into F1 as soon as possible. Even though budgets in the 1980s were miniscule compared to the millions spent in modern F1, the sport wasn't the great marketing success it is today which made finding sponsors even harder. Gian Carlo Minardi, however, used his experience and optimism to set up a well coordinated team, unfortunately void of any powerful backers.
Heroic as it might seem, taking the plunge into F1 was a more pragmatic decision than it might have appeared at the time. In 1983 the Minardi Team already employed more than 20 engineers and costs had reached extortionate proportions, too much for the sponsors in Formula 2. This led Gian Carlo to launch Minardi's F1 programme in 1984 with the aim to enter F1 the following season. He had negotiated a deal to support Alfa Romeo's ailing F1 team by getting his hands on their brand new supercharged V8 unit designed by Italian engineering legend Carlo Chiti. Alfa Romeo sent some engines to Faenza for the construction of the new car and the M184 was born.
It consisted of a sandwich monocoque made of carbon fibre and kevlar, high sidepods to make room for the radiators and single-mounted triplane wings, with at the heart the V8 Alfa turbo engine. The car was ready to be launched in July 1984 when Alessandro Nannini completed a successful 2000-kilometres test. All of a sudden Alfa withdrew its support. The team had faced severe diffculties and its CEO decided to pull the plug on any future adventures. Carlo Chiti was forced to leave Alfa (a team he had already worked for in the 50s) and Minardi was left stranded without an engine. The team had already passed the point of no return on its way to the pinnacle of motor sport, however, and it was forced to adjust the car to start its F1 adventure with a naturally aspirated Ford-Cosworth unit.
In 1985 Minardi would be the only team apart from Tyrrell not to use a turbo engine. The team also faced problems regarding its choice of drivers. Even though he had completed more than 2000 kilometres in an F1 car, Nannini did not have the required number of FIA points that, in the 80s, were necessary to enter F1. This meant that the team had to fall back on an old acquaintance. Pierluigi Martini, the man who, as a boy, had visited the Scuderia del Passatore (the Formula Italia team run by Gian Carlo Minardi) had the points necessary to compete in F1. He had tried to enter F1 with Brabham and Toleman in 1984 but did not manage to qualify for the Italian Grand Prix.
The idea of using the Cosworth units was not a very appealing one but there was no other way now that Alfa had left. Carlo Chiti, together with Piero Mancini, had set up an engineering company called "Motori Moderni". They were working on a six cylinder, 90 degree turbo unit with 1498 cc capacity which was said to produce 720 horsepower. While both car and engine, now called the M185, were ready for the season opener in Brazil, the team decided to run the Cosworth engine for the first two races, to allow for more testing. The new engine made its debut at Imola on May 5, 1985.
The car lacked both pace and reliability as it was designed for a completely different engine. Without significant backing, the team had embarked on an extremely difficult journey and the future did not look bright. The M185 only made it past the chequered flag three times, at the German, Belgian and Australian GP. The best result was an 8th spot at the Australian GP, alas, a whopping four laps down on race winner Keke Rosberg and also the last car to finish.