27 July 1986
The good news in the paddock was that Jacques Laffite was expected to make a full recovery; however, he would not be racing again this season at least, and Philippe Alliot was drafted in to replace him. Arrows had their new A9 chassis finally ready for both drivers, while Lotus announced that they would be using Honda engines from 1987 – a deal which came with Japanese driver Satoru Nakajima attached, meaning that poor Johnny Dumfries would have to find a new job at the end of the year. Finally, Keke Rosberg announced that he would be retiring from Formula One at the end of the season after a frustrating year so far.
Alliot had last been seen struggling around with the RAM team in 1985, and hadn’t impressed many – though few would have looked good in that car. He had tested for Ligier at the end of the season but with the capture of Arnoux he was not retained and returned to driving Formula 3000 with the ORECA team. After winning the race at Spa he was recalled by Ligier to replace the injured Laffite. With the blue cars having a good year, this could be his chance to show what he really had.
The Finn, however, ended Saturday on Pole Position for the race – his first with the McLaren team – with Alain Prost alongside to make the first McLaren front-row lockout for some time. Ayrton Senna was third, with Berger alongside in the Benetton, its straight-line speed a real advantage at Hockenheim. The previously-dominant Williams cars were 5th (Piquet) and 6th (Mansell), with Patrese, Arnoux, Fabi and Alboreto rounding out the top ten. Johansson’s Ferrari was 11th, Palmer’s Zakspeed a fine 16th at the team’s home race (Rothengatter was back in a more accustomed 24th) and the Osella team took their usual places on the back row, Ghinzani 25th and Berg 26th.
The lights went green and the two McLarens got away slowly, but behind them Senna got a flyer and barged his way through the middle, banging wheels with Prost in the process and sending the Frenchman skidding wide and allowing Berger to wriggle through into second. Further back, Johansson tripped over Alliot’s fast-starting Ligier and slewed across the track, punting Fabi into the sand-trap in the process. The Ferrari and the Ligier managed to limp around to the pits, while the luckless Fabi was out. Rosberg, meanwhile, had got back past Berger into second place (only to lose it again shortly afterwards) while Piquet had got ahead of Prost, now down in fifth.
Senna finished the first lap with Berger’s BMW, roared on by the German crowd, hanging right on his rear wing, with Rosberg slightly behind the pair – until the first chicane, at which point Rosberg pulled an audacious move to overtake both and take the lead. He began pulling away as Piquet started worrying at Berger in third place. Before long he was past, and Senna found himself leading a multi-car train including Piquet, Berger, Prost, Mansell, Alboreto, Patrese and Arnoux. Before the end of the lap, Piquet was past Senna and heading off in pursuit of Rosberg. Berger was now dropping back with first Prost then Mansell coming past, and would stop in the pits on lap 5 for the team to tinker with his engine – he rejoined three laps behind. The following lap, Piquet made his way past Rosberg and into the lead, while Prost was up to third ahead of Senna. Behind them, Alboreto had got past Mansell, struggling with steering issues, but the Ferrari was out on lap 6 with a transmission failure.
Arnoux now took fifth from Mansell, and things began to settle down a little as the field strung out and the Hockenheimring’s reputation as a car-breaker was confirmed with a series of technical gremlins – Streiff with a blown engine on lap 8, Ghinzani with a clutch failure on 11, Alliot a lap later with an engine failure, and Boutsen toured in on lap 14 with a blown turbo, which proceeded to catch fire while the pit crew tried to take the engine cover off. Piquet was the first of the major runners to pit for tyres, a stop of 9.1s dropping him to 4th behind Rosberg, Prost and Senna. Next in was Mansell, a quick 8.8s stop on lap 17 as his team-mate put up the fastest lap so far on his fresh tyres.
A few laps later, Rosberg came in from the lead, and the McLaren team turned him round in just 7.5s, putting him back on the road third, while Arnoux stopped from 5th at the same time. The following lap it was Prost’s turn, a relatively slow 8.4, which put Piquet back in the lead with Senna, still second, yet to stop. The Brazilian Lotus driver finally came in on lap 21, just before half-distance, leaving Piquet leading the McLarens of Rosberg and Prost. However, his stop had been early enough it looked like a two-stop strategy against McLaren’s single-stop – would he be able to get far enough ahead of them to make another stop?
The retirements continued – both Minardis within a lap of each other with engine (Nannini) and gearbox (de Cesaris) problems, Patrese with a faulty sparkplug, By lap 23, the top six were back where they had been before the stops: Piquet, Rosberg, Prost, Senna, Arnoux and Mansell, with Piquet having a lead of just over 5.5s over Rosberg – but the Finn was gaining, not dropping back. With 18 laps to go, Piquet peeled back into the pits for his second stop, just shy of 8s, and rejoined third but just 5s behind Prost. On fresh tyres, the Williams reeled in the McLaren and caught him when Prost was delayed by backmarkers Berg and Tambay having their own battle. Both were passed successfully and half a lap later, as Mansell came in for his second stop, Piquet pulled out and breezed past Prost. Now there was an 11-second gap to Rosberg and Piquet set about chasing him down with just 12 laps to go. Two laps later it was 8.25s, the lap after that 5.6s, then 4.1, then 2.7. With 7 laps to go, Piquet was right on Rosberg’s tail as they lapped Warwick and as they began the following lap he made a slingshot move around the outside at the first chicane and took the lead.
The race looked set for the finish, but then, with just one lap to go, the McLarens suddenly both began to slow – first Prost, who was rapidly caught and passed by Senna, then Rosberg who toured off at the back chicane. Both were out of fuel – and Piquet was now zigzagging around the track to slosh the last bits of fuel into his engine as Senna tore into his lead. The double champion made it across the line to take the win with Senna second. Prost was still third, but his engine had stopped and he was coasting around the last corner, desperately trying to urge his car forward before leaping out and pushing it, but to no avail – Mansell surged past for third and Arnoux for fourth, so Prost pushed his car over to the side and gave up. Rosberg stuttered past to take 5th for the final insult, leaving Prost with a single point for his afternoon’s efforts.