Adelaide Street Circuit
26 October 1986
The slightly complex mathematics of the championship – a driver only counted his 11 best scores, a rule designed to minimise the effect of mechanical unreliability – boiled down to the fact that Nigel Mansell needed to either beat Prost and Piquet, or come at least third whoever was ahead of him. Since Nigel had stood on the podium nine times in the preceding fifteen races, this seemed eminently doable and he seemed confident and relaxed as the teams arrived in Adelaide.
Last season the Australian Grand Prix, making its Championship debut, had hosted a great race with an end-of-term feel as Prost and McLaren had already had the titles wrapped up before they arrived. This year, it
would be a 3-way fight for the title and a capacity crowd of some 150,000 packed into the streets to watch. Mansell duly put in a scorching 1:18.403 lap to take pole position ahead of his team-mate and rival Nelson Piquet. Then came Senna and Prost on row 2, a surprise in 5th place in the shape of Arnoux’s Ligier and Gerhard Berger 6th after his Mexican heroics. Keke Rosberg would begin his F1 swansong from 7th place alongside Alliot’s Ligier, with both the French cars outqualifying the Ferraris of Alboreto (9th) and Johansson (12th), with Andrea de Cesaris raising a few eyebrows in 11th in the Minardi.
Sunday came and the lights went green – Mansell raced into the lead, while Senna got ahead of Piquet and Prost tucked in behind. A couple of rows back, Arnoux got a very bad start and Rosberg, immediately behind, reacted quickly to dodge around and slingshot up to fourth. Around the first corner they went, and on the next straight they came almost four abreast, with Senna squeezing past Mansell for the lead and immediately behind Rosberg challenging Piquet unsuccessfully for third. Then Piquet was attacking, not defending, muscling past Mansell into second as they negotiated the short point-and-squirt straights of the infield. At the next corner, Rosberg was past too, into third, and Mansell’s race was looking in trouble already. Mansell was at least able to keep Prost behind him as they emerged onto the long main straight, while at the front Piquet pulled out and passed Senna for the lead. The Williams driver immediately began to extend a lead from his Lotus-driving compatriot, who had a fired-up Rosberg snapping at his heels. Further back, and unseen by the cameras, Michele Alboreto had clipped a wall and retired, bringing a rotten season to an end. At the start of lap 3, Rosberg too made it past Senna who had clearly been holding him up for most of the lap.
Rosberg seemed to be transformed, putting a dreadful season behind him and looking every inch the street-fighting World Champion as he reeled in Piquet’s impressive lead and passed him on lap 7. Meanwhile Senna seemed to be having some minor niggle as he dropped back behind Mansell and Prost. Mansell was back in third – good enough for his championship win – but not for long: Prost got past on lap 11, just after Sandro Nannini had comprehensively demolished his Minardi in the tight infield section. On lap 16, Alan Jones retired with a blown Ford Turbo and with the Haas Lola team’s sponsorship deal not renewed for 1987, it looked like that might be the Australian champion’s last race run, while Dumfries had a small pirouette on the oil he dropped.
With Rosberg now in a commanding lead, the fight was between the next three cars – Piquet, Prost and Mansell – for the title, and Prost had closed right up behind Piquet to duel for second place. Lap after lap the Frenchman chased the Brazilian until on lap 23 the pressure told and Piquet spun, letting Prost past into second place and Mansell back into third. Prost now got the hammer down trying to reel in his team-mate Rosberg who was occupying the lead he needed to win the title. He put in the fastest lap of the race several times as he tried to whittle down the 17 second gap. He had taken four seconds out of it by lap 30, while pulling out seven seconds from Mansell – but then disaster struck. A puncture on his front-right tyre brought him in for a long stop of 17.13 seconds and dropped him to fourth, putting Mansell right back in the golden third place.
Goodyear technicians had a look at the tyres that had come off Prost’s car and decided that (puncture aside) they were in good condition and would have lasted to the end of the race. They let the teams know, and any planned tyre stops were cancelled – this would be a straight race to the finish now. Rosberg was so far in the lead that with no stops to come he looked nailed-on for his first and only McLaren win barring technical problems or an incident. Mansell, sitting pretty in second, just had to stay where he was. If Mansell was contented, though, his team-mate wasn’t – Piquet was charging again after his spin and caught right up to Mansell as he was trying to lap a lively scrap for position between Streiff and Danner. After harrying Mansell for several laps, Piquet ducked out and, in the knowledge that third would do just fine, Mansell yielded the place.
This was lap 40, just under half-distance, and as Berger retired with engine problems and de Cesaris with an unspecified mechanical malady, meanwhile Senna had pitted and dropped to sixth behind Johansson, and his engine let go on lap 43 and put him out. From there, the race settled down apart from some midfield attrition: both Arrows cars had BMW failures within a couple of laps, Warwick retired his Brabham with a brake problem and Allen Berg had a few visits to the pits to sort out a niggling gremlin. Rosberg maintained a lead of about 30 seconds over Piquet, who was being closely followed by Mansell with Prost about 10 seconds behind and unable to make much headway. Patrese had inherited sixth from Senna and made his way up past Johansson into fifth.
It was 20 laps later that things started happening; on lap 62 Rosberg heard a loud bang from behind him and, assuming his engine had gone, he parked it and got out, only to find his right-rear tyre had delaminated. As the Goodyear technicians frantically consulted, Piquet took the lead with Mansell third again, having just lost position to Prost. The man with the moustache was behind his two main championship rivals but would still win the title if he stayed where he was. And then it happened.
“AND LOOK AT THAT!” screamed BBC commentator Murray Walker into his microphone as the Williams’ right-rear tyre fairly exploded into a shower of rubber, the back of the car striking sparks from the road surface as it it fishtailed. “And … colossally, that’s Mansell! That is Nigel Mansell! Now this could and will change the World Championship!” Walker, never a man prone to British Understatement, spoke for a legion of British race fans who had looked forward to crowning their first champion since James Hunt. Mansell used all his driving skill to steer the car safely off the track.
Now Williams had a dilemma: Piquet was leading and would take the title if he won; but he hadn’t stopped for new tyres while Prost had and with Mansell and Rosberg both having blowouts there was nothing for it. Piquet peeled into the pits to take on new boots and Prost sailed through into the lead, where he stayed for the rest of the race, clinching his second Drivers’ Championship and becoming the first man since Jack Brabham (watching from the stands) to successfully defend a title. His “disaster” of a puncture early in the race had ended up being just the right thing for him, but Williams would be asking some hard questions of the Goodyear technicians.
Almost unnoticed in the hullabaloo, Stefan Johansson brought his Ferrari home a decent if distant third to round off a dreadful season for the Maranello team, the two Tyrrells took fourth and fifth (Brundle beating Streiff after the Frenchman ran out of fuel) and Johnny Dumfries rewarded for a fine drive at the end of a difficult season with a point for Lotus.
Nigel Mansell could at least take some cold comfort from the fact that Piquet’s second place wasn’t enough to rob him of second spot, while Johansson’s podium finish lifted him above Rosberg into fifth, “best of the rest” behind the Gang of Four, as Mansell, Piquet, Prost and Senna were known.
|1||Alain Prost||72 (74)*|
|2||Nigel Mansell||70 (72)*|
* Points in brackets are total earned; points are only counted from best 11 finishes.