Autodromo Dino Ferrari, Imola
27 April 1986
The Imola track had undergone a couple of safety revisions since the 1985 race, with bigger runoff areas and tweaks to the Varianta Alta chicane, but no major changes to the layout, meaning fuel economy would continue to be a factor; more so given the reduced fuel allowances for 1986. Zakspeed had expanded to a second car thanks to the financial input of Huub Rothengatter, while Alan Jones had the first of the Ford turbo units in the back of his Beatrice Lola. Otherwise, the field was the same.
Qualifying saw the same top three as in Brazil and Spain, with Senna, Piquet and Mansell lining up in the top three grid spots, with Prost fourth. Alboreto and Rosberg took row three, Johansson and Arnoux on row four and the two Benettons of Berger and Fabi rounding out the top ten. The two Osellas of Danner and Ghinzani took the back row, while Nannini had gone well to qualify his Minardi 18th, just behind Johnny Dumfries, who still hadn’t got used to the tricky circuit.
Race day was warm and overcast, and the cars lined up from the parade lap slightly crookedly, but the starters deemed it viable and the lights went red, then green. Senna got away well, followed by Piquet, while Mansell faltered with a misfire and dropped behind the McLarens of Prost and Rosberg, who had got ahead of Alboreto. As the leaders came round into Tosa on lap 1, Piquet got a slingshot past Senna and took the lead, while Alessandro Nannini’s good qualifying came to naught as he was crowded out and ended up in the Tosa gravel trap.
Senna seemed to be having some trouble, as both McLarens came past on lap 4, after which Rosberg got past his team-mate to get into second place, and at the same time Mansell came into the pits to have his engine tinkered with, but to no avail; the Williams was out. Shortly after, Senna’s right rear wheel began smoking, a faulty wheel bearing putting paid to his race on lap 12 – the exact same problem that had put Johnny Dumfries out three laps earlier. This promoted Alboreto to fourth in the Ferrari, with Fabi and Berger up to fifth and sixth, chased by Johansson. The two McLarens started reeling in Prost, with Rosberg putting up a fastest lap on lap 17, while Berger got past his team-mate.
The McLarens caught Piquet just as the first tyre-stops began, with Ferrari turning Johansson around in a shade over 9 seconds, with Alboreto’s stop even quicker at 8.44 a few laps later. On lap 27, Piquet came in but there was a slight problem and the stop took nearly 14 seconds, while Prost’s stop a lap later was just 8.27 – advantage McLaren. Rosberg stayed out for a few more laps in the lead, but a bad stop of 14.8 dropped him to second behind Prost, but still ahead of Piquet.
As the race wore on, fuel consumption became an issue and most drivers began to turn down the boost and hold station, with the order Prost – Rosberg – Piquet – Alboreto in relatively little danger of changing. Arnoux and Patrese were in 5th and 6th, running close together but also showing reluctance to battle. The two Benettons were still running nose-to-tail until Fabi developed an engine fault on lap 39 and Berger blasted by and left him behind.
Piquet’s fuel conservation nearly got him in trouble as Alboreto loomed in his mirrors and he had to risk speeding up a bit, as Arnoux livened up proceedings by losing a wheel on lap 46 and promoting Patrese to 5th and Johansson to 6th, but it was the closing laps that provided the real entertainment as cars began running dry. Alboreto backed off with a turbo boost problem, while Piquet caught up to Rosberg but couldn’t find a way past the pugnacious Finn.
Further back, Patrese, Johansson and Berger had formed a three-car chain and as they came up to lap Brundle, the Austrian took his chance to dive through and grab sixth from Johansson in a hairy but successful move. Piquet, meanwhile, was swarming all over the back of Rosberg’s McLaren as they came to lap Johansson, while Alboreto toured in to retire just five laps from the end. On the same lap, Rosberg pulled off, out of fuel, promoting Piquet to second and Gerhard Berger to third.
Boutsen and Patrese also dropped out with dry tanks in the last couple of laps and Prost was having fuel problems too – his engine sputtered and he lost momentum, with Piquet chasing him down. Weaving to slosh the last dregs of fuel into his engine, he came round the last corner with Piquet right up behind him and pulling out as they two raced right to the chequered flag – Prost had just enough left to win by a nose, and rolled to a halt at the pit exit, completely dry.
Berger kept going to take his and Benetton’s first podium place, with Johansson fourth to salvage a few points for Ferrari at their home race, and Rosberg and Patrese classified fifth and sixth despite their retirements – the lead four plus Brundle’s Tyrrell, two laps down, were the only cars running at the end.