17 May 1987
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Nelson Piquet was back in the cockpit two weeks after his horror crash at Imola and looking fit and rested (though he was to reveal many years later that he continued secretly visiting a hospital for treatment throughout the season and was “never quite right” afterwards). Other than that, the entry was the same as for San Marino, so there would be a full 26-car grid again. Qualifying saw Piquet coming out of the box fast, apparently not in a mood for caution after his shunt, but it was Mansell who took pole by a sizable margin – almost 1.5s – from his team-mate. Third was Senna in the active Lotus, the Ferraris of Berger 4th and Alboreto 5th and Prost 6th. Boutsen put his Benetton 7th with team-mate Fabi 9th, the pair sandwiching Patrese’s Brabham with Stefan Johansson’s second McLaren finishing off the top ten.
The green lights went on on Sunday afternoon and everyone got around La Source in one piece, Senna diving inside Piquet to take second on the tight hairpin. Partway round the first lap, Arnoux and de Cesaris tangled in the midfield, putting the Ligier in the gravel trap and Berger had a spin, clipping Boutsen on the way and forcing the Benetton out. However, there was a more serious incident at Eau Rouge on lap 2 when Phillippe Streiff clobbered the barriers, only to be ploughed into by his team-mate Jonathan Palmer. Both Tyrrells were comprehensively demolished and the race was stopped – a blessing for Arnoux, Berger and Boutsen who sprinted back to the pits to claim their spare cars, as well as for Streiff who had dibs on the spare Tyrrell as he had been the first to retire and the higher qualifier. Bad luck for Palmer then, the only
victim of the crash-strewn first lap, and half an hour later the boys reassembled for another go.
This time, Senna got an even better start, barging Piquet out of the way and ducking round Mansell to take the lead as the cars filtered through La Source and Eau Rouge. Mansell wasn’t giving up though, and chased Senna down before having a go around the outside at Raidillon. The two cars touched, and both pirouetted backwards off the track in unison. The Lotus was stranded in the gravel, while Mansell had bounced past it and kept the Williams running to rejoin the race, albeit right at the back. This left Piquet leading Alboreto and Prost, with Boutsen, Berger and Fabi close behind. In all the excitement, nobody even noticed both Minardis retiring, Campos with gearbox problems on lap 1 and Nannini with a blown turbo on lap 2. At the end of that lap, Berger’s Ferrari suddenly erupted in smoke and the Austrian trundled into the pits to retire. Again.
The following laps were equally full of attrition: Patrese’s clutch failed on lap 6, Warwick’s radiator on lap 9 and on lap 10 Christian Danner’s brakes failed. More significantly, Alboreto found his Ferrari gearbox offering him only neutrals, and retired from second place, promoting Prost. Then, it all seemed to go wrong in the Williams pit: both Mansell and Piquet came in simultaneously from opposite ends of the field. Mansell arrived first, got a new set of boots and left, while Piquet sat waiting for the pit to be free. Piquet then rolled forward into the slot, only to stay put, eventually rejoining well down before retiring with exhaust problems. At 1/4 distance, Prost was the new leader with Fabi second and Johansson third.
Mansell’s recovery ended with a spin on lap 18 (followed by some harsh words and fisticuffs in the Lotus garage), and shortly afterwards it was Boutsen’s turn to retire for the second time, while Johansson had got past Fabi and was now catching Prost and looking like he was going to have a crack at taking the lead. The Frenchman responded, stabilising the gap, and the two McLarens settled into a formation lead. Johansson took over when Prost pitted for tyres, but when the Swede followed suit, normal service was resumed.
That was more or less it for racing, with the two McLarens cruising to a 1-2 finish unchallenged for over half the race. Teo Fabi held third in his Benetton until his engine let go 9 laps before the end which promoted Andrea de Cesaris into an unaccustomed third place, his first podium visit since the chaotic 1982 Monaco Grand Prix, when he ran out of fuel in his Alfa Romeo, but everyone else did too so he was classified third. It may have been a little fortuitous, but deserved by the Brabham team, who hadn’t visited the podium since Piquet’s win for them in France, 1985.
Fourth was Cheever in the Arrows, fifth Nakajima picking up more points in the Lotus and Arnoux took the last point for Ligier, followed home by the luckless Ghinzani. In 8th, 9th and 10th, the last three finishers were the top three in the 3.5l category; Alliot, Streiff and Fabre respectively. The latter’s AGS was proving monumentally slow – finishing 6, 6 and 5 laps behind in the first three races of the season – but at least it was finishing, and if Fabre had a bit of luck he might even score points.
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
|Jim Clark Cup|
|Colin Chapman Trophy|