1987 San Marino Grand Prix

3 May 1987
Autodromo Dino Ferrari, Imola

SMR87 circuitThere were some changes to the entry list at this first European race of the season. Ligier were back, haivng brokered a deal with Arrows to share use of their “Megatron” (ex-BMW) engines, while the Larrousse-Calmels team, usually simply referred to as “Lola” for their chassis builder, made their debut with Phillippe Alliot at the wheel. Elsewhere, the March team had their purpose-built chassis ready at last, and chief sponsor Akira Akagi, CEO of Japanese property firm Leyton House, was at hand to watch its debut. Finally, joining Alex Caffi in a second Osella was debutant Gabriele Tarquini.

Tarquini22. Gabriele Tarquini it

Son of a kart track owner, young Gabriele got an early start in racing, and went on to be a fine kart racer, winning Italian, European and World titles before stepping up into Formula 3 via the CSAI racing school in Vallelunga. His first attempt, with Coloni, lasted just three races but he won more karting titles and tried Formula 3000 instead, this time coming sixth in the championship in his first season as well as competing at Le Mans. A test drive with Benetton followed, then the opportunity to move into Formula One as Osella were looking for a second driver for their European campaign.

Imola was the kind of circuit to reward both fast cars with its long sweeping corners, and cautious, economical drivers with its high fuel consumption. Alain “the Professor” Prost had won the last three years (albeit disqualified in 1985) and with his second world title and a win in Brazil under his belt he would be confident of winning. Nelson Piquet had a SMR87 Piquetmassive off in Friday’s first qualifying session, swapping ends at Tamburello and going backwards into the tyre wall at a frightening speed. The Brazilian walked away but despite only complaining of a sore ankle he was not cleared to continue by Professor Sid Watkins, F1’s doctor, and was forced to spend the remainder of the weekend driving a microphone for Italian TV. No-one was entirely sure what had caused the crash, and there was some suggestion that he had had a tyre deflation. Goodyear, at great expense and despite an Italian public holiday, flew in replacement tyres for all and these were all used on the Saturday session

SMR87 CapelliIn the end it was Piquet’s compatriot Senna who took pole; the first ever by an active-suspension car. Alongside was Mansell in the remaining Williams, with Prost third alongside Fabi’s Benetton. The Ferraris were on row 3, with Berger beating Alboreto again. Riccardo Patrese’s 7th on the grid for Brabham boded well for a revival for the team, with Johansson alongside in the second McLaren and the Arrows cars of Cheever and Warwick making up the top ten. Of the new boys, Alliot was 21st in his new Larrousse Lola, Capelli’s new March was 22nd, while Gabriele Tarquini brought up the rear in the Osella.

The cars lined up on Sunday afternoon and when the lights went green away went the 26 – or rather, 23 of them did. Brundle, Boutsen and Cheever all stalled, necessitating a restart, which would be taken with a reduced field: Arnoux’s suspension, which had been iffy all weekend, finally gave up the ghost and he withdrew, while Nakajima had a faulty battery in his Lotus and had to have it replaced and start from the pitlane.

Once they finally got away, Senna roared into the lead, but not for long – Mansell lined up at Tosa on lap two and squeezed through into the lead. By lap 6, Prost was past too and Senna was duelling with the Ferraris – Fabi having had a dreadful start and dropped right back. However, unfortunately for Prost (but to the delight of the crowd) the McLaren’s alternator packed up on lap 15 and he toured off. By this time, Ghinzani’s Ligier had already gone, the Italian finding the car impossible to steer. Two laps later, Berger’s Ferrari disappeared with a turbo boost problem, and Capelli’s March with a blown engine on the following lap.

SMR87 MansellBy lap 20, the order was therefore Mansell, Alboreto, Senna, Patrese, Johansson and Warwick – the fourth-placed Brabham and sixth-placed Arrows both putting in encouraging performances for their teams. On lap 22, Mansell peeled in for an earlier-than-scheduled pit stop as a wheel-balancing weight had come loose, which meant that Alboreto swept into the lead in his Ferrari – you could barely hear the engines above the noise of the crowd! It only lasted three laps until Alboreto pitted himself, then Senna held the lead for another two and then it was Mansell again once the active Lotus came in. Patrese stopped later than most, on lap 37, and in the meantime held second well, actually gaining on Mansell a little. As if to emphasise the difference in quality, two laps after Patrese came in, his team-mate Andrea de Cesaris spun off, while Patrese managed to catch and overtake Senna and Alboreto, fighting their own little battle, and return to second place.

With just over fifteen laps to go, Mansell led Patrese, Senna, Alboreto, Johansson and Warwick, with Teo Fabi moving up fast in his Benetton after a slow start and a stop for repairs. However, the Benetton team were out of luck today; Boutsen’s engine let go on lap 49, and Fabi’s turbo failed three laps later by which time he had reached fourth place. His was not to be the only heartbreak of the race, though; Patrese’s alternator went almost simultaneously, ending his fine drive unceremoniously and promoting the Senna/Alboreto scrap back to a fight for second. The fight was over soon afterwards, with Alboreto succumbing to the same boost problem that had seen to Berger, but he was able to keep the car going to take third. Johansson was fourth, the last man on the same lap as the winner Mansell and a two-for-two points scoring record in his first two races for McLaren.

SMR87 BrundleIn fifth was Warwick, but – more heartbreak – he ran out of fuel on the last lap, classifying 11th. However, the Arrows team’s loss was others’ gain: Martin Brundle brought his Zakspeed home 5th to score the West German team’s first-ever points, and Nakajima was promoted to sixth just in time to score Japan’s first-ever point. Jonathan Palmer had retired with clutch problems, so his team-mate Philippe Streiff took the 3.5l category “win”, with Alliot and Fabre second and third, and the only other finishers in the category.

By dint of his sixth-place finish in Brazil and Prost’s no-score here, Mansell now led the Drivers’ Championship by a point over the defending Champion, with Johansson third thanks to his consistency.


Drivers Championship
1 Nigel Mansell 10
2 Alain Prost 9
3 Stefan Johansson 7
4 Nelson Piquet 6
5 Michele Alboreto 4
7 Gerhard Berger 3
8 Thierry Boutsen 2
9 Martin Brundle 2
10 Satoru Nakajima 1
Jim Clark Cup
1 Phillippe Streiff 15
2 Jonathan Palmer 9
3 Pascal Fabre 8
4 Phillippe Alliot 6
Constructors Championship
1 McLaren 16
= Williams 16
3 Ferrari 7
= Lotus 7
5 Benetton 2
= Zakspeed 2
Colin Chapman Trophy
1 Tyrrell 24
2 AGS 8
3 Larrousse-Calmels Lola 6

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