10 April 1987
A new era for Formula One opened in familiar fashion – with a threatened drivers’ strike. At issue once again were FISA’s Superlicenses. A proposed change would see fees charged according to how many points a driver had scored the previous year, from $825 for a non-scorer up to $12,000 for Prost, Mansell and Piquet. As so often in the past, a (FISA-weighted) compromise was agreed and it all blew over. By the time the transporters arrived in Rio for the first Grand Prix of the year, all talk was on the racing – and the absence for the first time in some years of the Ligier team from the grid. René Arnoux had been vocal in his displeasure at the performance of the Alfa-Romeo turbo engine and as a result the Italian concern had pulled out. Rumour had it that they had been looking for an excuse to do just that, perhaps as parent company Fiat weren’t keen on them competing with their other brand, Ferrari. Either way, the blue cars stayed in the factory while Guy Ligier frantically sought new powerplants.
Also absent were the new Larrousse team whose Lola-built chassis wasn’t quite ready yet – they hoped to be ready for the start of the European season at the next race in Imola.
The boost limit on turbo engines was expected to be most felt during qualifying so there were some dark mutterings when it ended up being business as usual with Nigel Mansell taking only his fifth career pole, ahead of local heroes Piquet (from Rio itself) and Senna (from Sao Paulo). The top three cars all had Honda power, and the only Honda driver not at the front was rookie Satoru Nakajima, 12th in his Lotus. Teo Fabi was an excellent fourth in the new Benetton-Ford, with new team-mate Boutsen sixth, sandwiching Prost’s McLaren. The Ferraris were 7th (Berger) and 9th (Alboreto), sandwiching Warwick’s Arrows with Johansson starting his first race for McLaren in 10th place. The top non-turbo qualifiers were Palmer and Streiff, 18th and 20th in their Tyrrells
March, who had shown up with a modified F3000 car as their F1 chassis wasn’t ready yet, had ended up withdrawing after breaking too many engines in practice, leaving Pascal Fabre’s AGS as the last man on the grid in 22nd.
The usual capacity crowd assembled to see their heroes race on Sunday and they were not disappointed. To a roar that threatened to drown out even the whine of the turbos, Nelson Piquet edged ahead of his British team-mate and went into the lead in the first corner, closely followed by the unfamiliarly-yellow Lotus of Ayrton Senna. In fact, Mansell had a dreadful start, dropping from pole back to fifth as the two Benettons of Boutsen and Fabi stormed past too, clearly not suffering the loss of their powerful BMW engines too much. The two Brazilians immediately began to pull out a lead, while behind them Mansell managed to recover to third. On lap 3, Adrian Campos’ debut was cut short as the Minardi was black-flagged for a beach of start procedure. By lap 5, the order was Piquet-Senna-Mansell-Fabi-Prost-Boutsen and Piquet was pulling out a lead over Senna who was being threatened by Mansell – but it wasn’t to last: two laps later, the number six Williams was peeling into the pits. The heat of the day and the abrasive track surface meant his tyres were already going off, and he had also picked up a lot of rubbish in his air intakes – a perennial problem at the circuit.
Senna now led – the first time an active-suspension car had led a Grand Prix – and as Piquet rejoined in midfield Prost moved up to third ahead of Fabi. The Italian’s Benetton was was suffering from a terminal turbo affliction, though, and he pulled in to retire on lap 9, while Prost now moved right up behind Mansell who was beginning to drop back from Senna. A lap later the McLaren was past, to the roars of the crowd for whom Mansell had become a bogeyman during his previous season’s rivalry with Piquet. At the end of the lap, still losing ground, Mansell dived in for new tyres and rubbish-extraction while Prost was now tucked right up behind the Lotus of Senna and a duel developed between the two while behind them more and more drivers made early pitstops. After valiantly keeping Prost behind him for a couple of laps, it was Senna’s turn to pit on lap 14 and Prost went into the lead ahead of Boutsen, Berger, Piquet, Johansson and Mansell, with Senna rejoining 8th behind Warwick’s Arrows. And then it was Prost’s turn to pit, propelling Thierry Boutsen into the lead for the first time ever – but not for long as Piquet, having already disposed of Berger, now surged past into the lead on the main straight to the renewed roars of the crowd and the apoplectic delight of the Brazilian TV commentators.
By lap 17, when Martin Brundle coasted his Zakspeed to a halt with a busted turbo, the order was Piquet – Boutsen – Mansell – Berger – Prost – Senna, but by the time Piquet made a second stop two laps later it was Mansell and Prost who swept through into first and second place, Boutsen having also had to pit for a puncture. More pitstops followed as more and more drivers found the circuit hard on their tyres and/or had to come in for a de-rubbishing of their sidepods, and with the pitstops came lead changes. On lap 21, Prost retook a lead he was not to lose for the rest of the race, managing to pull out sufficient of a lead to even be able to come in for a stop on lap 37 – having made his first set of tyres last much better than the rest.
Behind Prost, Piquet was roared on by the crowd but Senna was not entirely happy with the handling of his Lotus – the new “active” suspension taking a bit of getting used to and he retired from second place on lap 51, saying he could feel the engine starting to seize up and he thought it better to pull off rather than wait for it to blow. Mansell was also out of luck, dropped back down the order with a puncture.
Alain Prost won his 26th career victory, taking him to within one win of Jackie Stewart’s all-time record, and led home Nelson Piquet by just over 40 seconds. Stefan Johansson took to the podium in McLaren overalls for the first time, while Berger – struggling with the handling of his Ferrari – took fourth, with Boutsen and Mansell the last points scorers. Satoru Nakajima, in his first ever Grand Prix, raised a few eyebrows by finishing a creditable 7th. Alboreto was 8th in the second Ferrari, Danner 9th in the Zakspeed, followed by the two Tyrrells of Palmer and Streiff and finally Pascal Fabre’s AGS, six laps adrift in 12th. The last three were the only non-turbo runners to finish, so took first, second and third places in the Jim Clark/Colin Chapman trophies.
|Jim Clark Cup|
|Colin Chapman Trophy|