The advent of the new engine regulations for 1987 had led to some wide-ranging changes in the sport. Renault and BMW had both withdrawn as engine suppliers, though the German firm agreed to supply Brabham for one more season. Lotus, Ligier, Tyrrell, Arrows and Benetton were left looking for new motive power. Arrows – with the significant backing of their sponsor USF&G – managed to persuade BMW to continue supplying them, though the engine would be badged as a “Megatron” (a subsidiary of BMW, though the popular Transformers line of toys used the name for its main villain, leading to some hilarity). Ligier arranged for a supply of Alfa Romeo engines, to the consternation of the team’s fans. The Haas Lola team had withdrawn after just one season, so Benetton took over their supply of Ford V6 Turbos, while Tyrrell – who had been the the last team to go turbo – elected to return to normally-aspirated engines with the new Ford DFZ. It was Lotus that pulled of something of a coup, though, with an agreement to use the same Honda turbos that powered the Williams cars.
Technical and Rules changes
The main technical change was of course the new engine formula which was proving even in its initial stages to be a game-changer. 1l turbocharged engines were now limited to 4.0 bar by means of a pop-off valve described by one team owner as “the only crude piece of engineering on a modern Grand Prix car”, while as an alternative teams could opt for a larger 3.5l normally-aspirated engine.
To encourage teams to take the latter option (and in recognition that it was still going to be something of an uneven playing field), a pair of new competitions were announced: The Jim Clark Cup for drivers and the Colin Chapman Trophy for constructors, both open only to normally-aspirated cars.
Finally, super-sticky qualifying tyres were banned – these tyres were only good for one or two laps, leading to games of qualifying poker as everyone tried to find a clear lap. A new qualifying compound was introduced instead that was still softer than race tyres but now would last long enough to make qualifying less of a waiting game.
Fans everywhere were disappointed that the Canadian Grand Prix was cancelled due to a sponsorship dispute between the two big breweries, Molson and Labatt. To compensate, the Japanese Grand Prix made a welcome return as the penultimate race with a new venue; instead of Fuji Speedway where the race had been held last in 1977, the Honda-owned Suzuka circuit would be used. Aside from the obvious political reasons, the track looked like it would offer something a difference. Set inside a theme park, it was unique in its figure-8 configuration.