Red Bull broke McLaren’s record for most consecutive victories this season and is now trying to achieve another achievement: winning absolutely every Grand Prix of the season. In 1988, McLaren came incredibly close to this: Ron Dennis’ team won 15 races out of a possible 16. The only Grand Prix that did not defeat the Woking team was that of Monza: in front of the home stands, Ferrari interrupted the victorious rhythm of Senna and Prost. Let’s remember how it was.
McLaren began to dominate from the first race of the season
In the run-up to the 1988 championship, McLaren underwent a number of key changes. Firstly, the team changed engine suppliers: in Woking they switched from Porsche (TAG) to Honda. Secondly, Alain Prost’s partner was the more promising Ayrton Senna, who already knew the taste of victories with Lotus. McLaren made another major acquisition in 1987, poaching technical director Gordon Murray from Brabham, the man who finalized last year’s car, as a result of which the iconic McLaren MP4/4 appeared in the future (although other engineers question the involvement Murray’s active role in working on the new product).
The fact that the season will take place under the auspices of the complete dominance of Ron Dennis’s team became clear after the results of the Brazilian Grand Prix that opened the championship. By the way, the interesting thing is that on Saturday the McLarens failed to qualify at full strength for the front row: Mansell got between Senna and Prost in Williams. Furthermore, the Brazilian never managed to start the race from pole: on the warm-up lap, his McLaren got stuck in first gear, leaving the pit lane with a spare car.
Prost leads the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix – 1988
Photo: Simon Bruty/Getty Images
However, the start from the back of the pack only helped to further illustrate the frenetic form of the MP4/4: already on lap 20 (a third of the distance), Senna took second place. As for Prost, he confidently overtook Mansell at the start and at the end of the first lap he led him by almost 2 seconds. Only Senna’s disqualification prevented McLaren from making a one-two victory that day: he violated the rules to change cars before the start (he moved to another car after the green flag).
The Brazilian Grand Prix was one of sixteen rounds of the 1988 season in which McLaren dominated. In the next 11 races, Ron Dennis’ team recorded a winning double eight times. In addition to Senna’s disqualification in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian’s accident in Monaco, as well as the control problems that Prost had in Silverstone, prevented him from achieving the maximum result (in 11 stages).
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Ferrari fought for “best of the rest” status
If with the triumphs of the 1988 season the issue disappeared at the beginning of the championship, then for the status of second force in the peloton a serious fight developed between three teams (reminds me of something?): Ferrari, Lotus and Benetton. . At times, Williams demonstrated decent speed, but due to the low reliability of the Judd, Mansell and Patrese engines they could not regularly fight for high places.
Each of the three teams mentioned above was able to shine in individual Grands Prix (in the “best of the rest” category), but Ferrari had a more consistent performance and the individual successes of the “Reds” were much brighter than those of their competitors. . It was the Scuderia that managed to inflict the only defeat on McLaren in qualifying: at Silverstone, Berger and Alboreto occupied the front row of the starting grid.
Ferrari drivers lead the start of the British Grand Prix
Photo: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images
In the race itself, Ferrari’s lead lasted only 13 laps (Senna was ahead of Berger); With a McLaren like that you couldn’t count on more. It seemed that the Woking team would win all 16 races of the season, but in early September Formula 1 visited Monza for the twelfth round of the championship.
The 1988 Italian Grand Prix took place in an atmosphere of mourning: less than a month ago, Enzo Ferrari, founder of the main brand in the history of world motorsport, died. For the Scuderia, the next stage in Monza, for obvious reasons, was of particular importance: it was important not to lose face to the mourning tifosi. The best way to honor the memory of the great Comendatore was, of course, a victory at his home track, although in the run-up to the race weekend such a trial seemed more like a dream than a real goal. McLaren was elusive and nothing could be done about it… well, or almost nothing.
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The fate of the race was decided by the actor of the movie “Taxi” and the legend of the “Dakar”
At first, the race weekend at Monza did not portend anything sensational. The Pole won Ayrton Senna, three “tens” ahead of his teammate. The second row of the starting grid was occupied by two Ferraris: Berger lost six tenths to the winner of the classification, Alboreto, one second.
In addition to the main stars of the peloton, the attention of the fans in Monza was attracted by the figure of Williams’ co-driver, Jean-Louis Schlesser. You’ve probably seen this gentleman more than once – this is the same rally driver from the opening scene of the movie “Taxi” 2 (he also played the role of a stuntman). For Schlesser, the Italian Grand Prix was the second in his Formula 1 career: in 1983 he tried unsuccessfully to qualify on his home stage and in 1988 he replaced Nigel Mansell, who had contracted chickenpox, as part of Williams.
Nigel Mansell in 1988
Photo: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images
According to the original plan, Martin Brundle (who participated in the previous Grand Prix) was to drive the FW12, but the team for which he competed in the sports car championship did not let the Briton go. Thus, Schlösser, 39, participated for the second time in his life in the Formula 1 Grand Prix and participated for the first time at the start of the race: he took 22nd place in the classification, losing 2 seconds to Patrese.
It may seem that in vain we pay so much attention to the future Dakar legend, nicknamed the Desert Fox, but no. This Chekhov gun will keep firing. But first things first.
On Sunday, the fun at Monza began before the race even started, when Gerhard Berger had mechanical problems on his way to the grid. The Austrian had to return to the pits and switch to a spare car; Berger took his place in the starting field at the last moment. If his Ferrari had started to panic even one lap later, at best he would have started from the back of the pack. Apparently, that day the racing gods favored “red.”
However, at the beginning the race traditionally went in favor of McLaren. Senna and Prost, unaware of their rivals, immediately rushed to patch things up between them. The Frenchman had a slightly better start, which allowed him to overtake his teammate in the first meters of distance, but Senna regained the lead already at the entrance to the first corner.
Then Ayrton rushed forward, circling in splendid isolation. But as for Prost, the Frenchman could not separate himself from Berger and Alboreto at the start of the race. Only closer to the tenth lap Alain began to pull away from his pursuers: the Ferrari drivers began to save fuel. Why was the dominant McLaren able to overthrow his rivals only when they slowed down of his own will? It’s very simple: from the beginning, Prost suffered engine failures. The Frenchman’s McLaren engine lost power due to periodic cylinder failures. In such conditions, the engine works, to put it mildly, not at 100%.
Alain Prost in 1988
Photo: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images
Over time, Alain managed to more or less stabilize the engine by enriching the mixture, but it was still not possible for him to compete for victory. There is a version that Prost realized at the beginning of the race that he would not reach the finish line, and proceeded to plan B. The plan was to drive as hard as possible (as much as the engine would allow), forgetting about fuel economy. , causing Senna to accelerate the pace to increase fuel consumption. Yes, the idea was to literally force Ayrton to also use up all the fuel before reaching the finish line (refueling was still prohibited at that time).
This theory received no official confirmation (who would admit that?). However, closer to the halfway point of the race, Prost really picked up the pace. On lap 30, Alain reduced the difference with his teammate to two seconds. However, for the French engine this was the peak of performance, followed by a sharp drop. Prost will then begin to lose six seconds per lap, and after a few minutes two Ferraris will overtake him. On lap 34, the Frenchman will enter the pits: McLaren’s second technical retirement of the 1988 season.
Left alone to defend the honor of the Woking team, Senna could afford to switch to economical mode: he had to control fuel consumption and the Brazilian was called by radio to take care of the engine (taking into account the problems that had had). emerged with Prost). The transition to a new driving mode cost Ayrton from one second to one and a half seconds per lap. Little by little two Ferraris began to approach the race leader, who could no longer control the fuel level.
Finally, three laps before the checkered flag, Berger was four seconds behind Senna. Viewers could have seen an incredibly dramatic battle for victory on the final lap, but it never came to that. It is at that moment, three laps before the finish line, that Schlesser appears on the front line.
Schlesser competed in the World Sports Car Championship in the 1980s.
Photo: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images
On the way to victory, Senna, as befits a leader, passed many drivers who were lagging behind in the circle; At some point, Ayrton arrived at Schlesser’s Williams. It is not clear why, but on a track with many straights, Senna, for some reason, decided to overtake the Frenchman on a dangerous ski, launching a curve right in front of Jean-Louis’s nose. Schlesser did not have time to react to Senna’s maneuver, a collision that marked the abandonment of the race leader.
A disaster for McLaren and a happy ending for all of Italy. Thus, at the end of the race, the Ferrari driver duo took the lead. The Reds reached the finish line without incident: Berger was the first to see the checkered flag, followed by Alboreto, and Arrows driver Eddie Cheever completed the top three.
In such dramatic fashion, Ferrari gained a much-needed victory for all of Italy. McLaren suffered its only defeat in the 1988 championship at Monza: the remaining 15 races of the season will be contested by Ron Dennis’ team. As for Ayrton Senna, the offensive incident at Monza generally cost the Brazilian nothing: at the end of 1988, the Brazilian would take the F1 championship title for the first time in his career.
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