1987 Monaco Grand Prix

Circuit_de_Monaco_198631 May 1987
Monte-Carlo Street Circuit

Ah, Monaco. The glamour, the gloss, the conspicuous consumption – and the complaints about pitlane overcrowding, the narrow track and the cramped facilities. There were more complaints than usual in 1987: for the first time the race would have the same number of qualifiers as all the rest – 26 – instead of 20 as previously. FISA said it was to keep the playing field level and to bring Monaco into line with regulations. Cynics suggested that sponsors weren’t keen on their cars potentially not qualifying for the most watched race of the year. The backmarker teams were happy enough, but the top teams were predicting on-track congestion like never before; dangerous speed disparities with no overtaking room and more.

Still, there was a job to do and on Thursday the drivers headed out onto the track for their first practice session. During the session, the critics seemed to have their point made

MON87 Accident

when Michele Alboreto tried an ambitious move to pass Christian Danner’s Zakspeed at Casino Square, and instead hit him at something like 150mph. Both drivers walked away, but their cars were demolished. In an unprecedented move, Christian Danner – despite being widely seen as the innocent party – was immediately disqualified from the rest of the weekend. It was far from the only practice accident, moreover; Berger, Fabi, Streiff and both Minardi drivers all had car-damaging accidents. All were unharmed except for Adrian Campos, who was ruled out by Sid Watkins with a suspected concussion. So there’d be only 24 starters after all – and at the front of them all would be Mansell, with Senna alongside. Piquet (who loathed Monaco) and Prost made up the second row, Alboreto was fifth after his accident, and Cheever sixth. Johansson could only manage 7th after a troubled two days’ practice, with Berger, Boutsen and Patrese making up the top ten. The commentators made much of the fact that Mansell and Senna had tangled on the first lap three times in the last few years – Australia ’85, Brazil ’86 and of course last time out in Belgium – and anticipation was high.

MON87 Senna 2

In the event, both drivers and almost everyone else got through Ste Devote safely when the lights went green. Nakajima, in his first race at the track, spun and Alliot and Capelli both went off trying to avoid the rotating Lotus, but all three got going again as Mansell led Senna, Piquet, Alboreto, Prost and Cheever around the tight streets. With limited oveertaking opportunities, the order didn’t change for some time. Boutsen was the first retirement, his transmission going on lap 6, while Phillippe Streiff had another spectacular shunt on lap 10, demolishing his third chassis in two races at Massenet. The lanky Frenchman was unharmed, but the look on the faces of Ken Tyrrell and his hardworking engineers must have been a picture. Nannini’s Minardi pulled off with electrical gremlins on lap 22, but two laps later the first high-profile retirement occurred as Nigel Mansell’s Williams suffered an exhaust problem which robbed him of turbo boost. He pulled into the pits and Senna swept by into the lead. At the time, Mansell had been leading Senna by around 8 seconds, and the pair were pulling away from third-placed Piquet.

MON87 SennaNow Senna was out front by himself, some distance ahead of his countryman with 48 laps to go. The active suspension – “still not quite right”, according to its designer Peter Wright – smoothed out Monaco’s bumps for him and with Piquet out of sorts, still suffering from his accident at Imola and hating the circuit he was easily able to maintain a comfortable lead, even pitting for tyres without losing the lead. Prost, meanwhile, worked his way up to third but couldn’t find a way past Piquet despite the Brazilian being somewhat out of sorts. Nakajima was also having a good race after his inital spin, using the active Lotus to carve through the field. The Arrows cars ran well, but both broke down within a lap of each other on laps 59 (Warwick, gearbox) and 60 (Cheever, overheating).

MON87 PalmerThe story of the race, though, was the duel between the 3.5l cars of Jonathan Palmer and Ivan Capelli which progressed through the field, benefitting from the retiring Arrows to become a battle for a precious point. Far from holding up the turbo cars, these two nimble atmo cars with no turbo lag were ahead of most of them – and then, with just two laps to go, Prost’s engine went phut and he was out. Alboreto was back up to third, Berger fourth and the Palmer-Capelli battle became 5th and 6th, a well-deserved points finish for both hard-trying teams, who would also save in the region of $250,000 in travel expenses for the last three races of the season in Mexico, Japan and Australia, as points scorers travel free. Palmer and Capelli of course also scored top points in the 3.5l category with Pascal Fabre once again trailing in last (+7 laps this time) but finishing nonetheless to claim the last points.

MON87 PodiumSenna’s win had been so effortless – 33 seconds over Piquet – that the Lotus pitwall team recalled him shouting “Easy! Easy! Winning at Monaco! I can’t believe it!” during the last couple of laps, and he was certainly overjoyed enough on the podium to commit the faux pas of spraying Prince Rainier with the champagne until team boss Peter Warr threw himself in the way. Prost was philosophical at least, but McLaren had had a bad race with no points scored. The Lotus active suspension may not be quite right, but it seemed to have done the trick in Monaco, and next up was the very similar Detroit circuit…


Drivers Championship
1 Alain Prost 18
2 Ayrton Senna 15
3 Stefan Johansson 13
4 Nelson Piquet 12
5 Nigel Mansell 10
6 Michele Alboreto 8
7 Gerhard Berger 6
8 Andrea de Cesaris 4
9 Satoru Nakajima 3
= Eddie Cheever 3
11 Thierry Boutsen 2
= Martin Brundle 2
= Jonathan Palmer 2
14 Rene Arnoux 1
= Ivan Capelli 1
Jim Clark Cup
1 Phillippe Streiff 21
2 Jonathan Palmer 18
3 Pascal Fabre 16
4 Phillippe Alliot 15
5 Ivan Capelli 6
Constructors Championship
1 McLaren 31
2 Williams 22
3 Lotus 18
4 Ferrari 14
5 Brabham 4
6 Arrows 3
7 Benetton 2
= Zakspeed 2
= Tyrrell 2
9 Ligier 1
9 March 1
Colin Chapman Trophy
1 Tyrrell 39
2 AGS 16
3 Larrousse-Calmels Lola 15
4 March 6

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