Autódromo do Estoril
21 September 1986
Allen Berg returned to the Osella team after Alex Caffi’s one-off appearance in Italy, but otherwise the field remained the same. The AGS team would make the second of their two 1986 appearances with Ivan Capelli at the wheel once again. Otherwise, the grid for 1987 continued to take shape; perhaps most significant was Ferrari’s announcement that Gerhard Berger would be driving for them in place of Stefan Johansson, the Austrian having impressed for the fledgling Benetton team. Pirelli had announced that they would be withdrawing from the sport in 1987, as would Renault as an engine supplier. McLaren caused a stir by showing up with an unusual paint-job on Rosberg’s car; the usual red chevrons had been repainted gold to promote
Marlboro’s new “Marlboro Gold” brand – unfortunately the particular shade chosen didn’t come across well on camera and the end result looked on TV like the car had just been left out in the sun too long.
With three races to go and four potential champions in the field, Bernie Ecclestone (wearing his FOCA hat rather than his Brabham hat) organised for the four men to go sit on a pit wall while he rustled up a photographer. The resulting photo was to become one of the most famous images of Formula One in the 1980s.
Ayrton Senna had scored his first pole position and maiden victory at the Estoril circuit in 1985, and repeated his pole position here 18 months later (the Portuguese race having been early in the 1985 season). Nigel Mansell’s Williams was alongside, with Prost and a buoyant Berger on row 2. Fabi’s second Benetton was fifth with Piquet a frustrated 6th. Rosberg parked his McLaren in 7th alongside Johansson’s Ferrari, with Patrese’s Brabham and Laffite’s Ligier on row 5. As in Italy, all 27 cars were allowed to start in recognition of AGS’ temporary status and as usual it was Allen Berg at the back.
As the lights went green, it was Mansell who got the better start, both he and Senna laying down thick black marks as they burned away from the start, the pair quickly moving ahead of Berger, who had got ahead of Prost at the start. Soon, however, Mansell managed to draw away from Senna and attention focussed on the battle for third between Berger, Piquet and Prost. The Frenchman was keeping a watching brief as Piquet harried Berger. AGS’ campaign came to a premature end as Capelli rolled to a stop on lap 7 with a gearbox full of neutrals, That same lap, Piquet finally got past Berger into third place, while Mansell extended his lead with a fastest lap.
Piercarlo Ghinzani’s Osella was the next car to give up the ghost on lap 9, with Rothengatter’s Zakspeed following him into retirement the following lap just as he was lapped by Prost. Berger, meanwhile, seemed to be having some trouble and had dropped back to sixth, behind Prost and Rosberg, by lap ten. Alan Jones had a brake-induced spin and climbed out of his Lola on that lap, compounding a difficult full first season for Beatrice Haas Lola. Teo Fabi was by now running 7th, with the two Ferraris of Johansson and Alboreto right behind.
The top drivers had meanwhile become strung out already and the early stages of the race settled into a rhythm as Mansell clocked off the laps in total control. With 18 laps gone, Martin Brundle retired with a flaming Renault in the rear of his Tyrrell, almost as soon as he had been lapped by Mansell. The Williams driver was carving easily through the traffic and offering Senna no chance to close the 4-second gap. Around this time, Johansson got ahead of Fabi to move up into sixth place, but was 15 seconds behind the McLaren pair in 4th/5th. The lead Marlboro car, Prost, was hanging right on the rear wing of his great rival Piquet, who was having more trouble than Mansell with the backmarkers – however, Prost was severely held up getting past de Cesaris and Piquet was able to pull away again.
On lap 28, Piquet put up the fastest lap so far in 1:22.211, the same lap as Philippe Streiff parked the second Tyrrell with another Renault fire and Derek Warwick brought his Brabham in for the first scheduled tyre stop of the race, exiting in a good 8.1s. All eyes turned to the pitlane to hopefully liven up a rather dull race so far. Alboreto was next in, and out in 7.95s. Senna was the first of the frontrunners to stop, a comparatively tardy 10.12s from the usually excellent Lotus mechanics. Piquet now put the hammer down, hoping to use the opportunity to get ahead of Senna when he pitted himself, and drew close behind a cruising Mansell, while Prost also stopped, stationary for just under 9s and crucially rejoining ahead of Senna.
The next lap it was Mansell’s stop, a good 8.41s that put him back on the track without losing his lead. By the time the stops had shaken out it was half-distance, lap 35, and it was pretty much all back to what it had been before: Mansell led Senna, though now by a much bigger margin and the Lotus had Piquet and Prost right behind him. Rosberg was fifth with Fabi sixth, having got back ahead of the Ferraris.
The top four in the race were the top four in the championship (albeit not in the same order) and a terrific scrap developed between the two Brazilian rivals, with Piquet trying everything to get past Senna and the younger man making his Lotus as wide as possible, while Mansell clocked off more fastest laps, and Prost watched and hoped the two Brazilians would take each other out. The three came across a patch of traffic and the gaps extended and contracted as the drivers made their way through, while Rosberg disappeared from fifth with engine trouble. Berger took the place, only to have a coming-together with Johansson that put the Austrian out but allowed the Swede to continue. By this time, lap 45, the battle for 2nd was out of the traffic again and Prost had once more dropped back slightly from the two Brazilians. Piquet periodically closed up and pulled out as if to pass, but couldn’t make any impression on the Lotus.
The race continued fairly processionally, with the battle for 2nd-3rd-4th providing the most interest barring the retirements, and there weren’t even that many of those. After Berger’s accident on lap 45, the next to go was Nannini with a gearbox on lap 61, and Patrese was the last to go two laps later with another blown BMW engine. The TV director was reduced to showing slow-motion replays of Senna passing backmarkers to inject a bit of excitement. When the live picture reappeared, Senna was running on his own – where was Piquet? The answer soon came: he had had a small spin, swapping ends and rejoining in fourth, just ahead of the two Ferraris (who had both been lapped by Mansell) and a good 20 seconds behind third-placed Prost.
All seemed settled after a dull race, but on the very last lap, Senna suddenly slowed, his Renault engine having run dry. Prost and Piquet both got past but the chasing Ferraris were a lap down and Senna would take fourth nonetheless, freewheeling across the finish line just as Mansell, Prost and Piquet peeled into the parc ferme behind him.
Senna’s misfortune eliminated him from the championship running, but an ecstatic Mansell knew that the World Championship was in his grasp with two races to go. With a 10-point lead over second-placed Piquet (who was only a point ahead of Prost), Mansell could still be caught, but a win in Mexico would seal the deal.
Williams, meanwhile, did what everyone was expecting and wrapped up the Constructors’ title at Estoril, with a huge points advantage over McLaren, whose unfortunate number 2 driver, Keke Rosberg, was having a dreadful final season in the sport.