12 July 1987
The sixtieth running of the British Grand Prix was the first of a five-year contract that the Northamptonshire circuit had agreed with FISA, leaving Brands Hatch without the alternate-years deal it had previously enjoyed. Some changes to the circuit had been made, especially to the “too fast” Woodcote chicane. 100,000+ race fans didn’t care though – they were here to see their man Nigel win. The international press had been harsh on him over his confrontation with Senna in Belgium, and fans were also starting to realise exactly how frosty relations were between Mansell and Piquet. The Brazilian’s fans insisted that the team were favouring fellow-countryman Mansell, while Mansell’s supporters claimed they were simply refusing to favour “number one driver” Piquet. Mansell had beaten Piquet in France but only with a little luck, and he would be feeling the pressure of his home fans as much as being buoyed by their support.
Outside of the Williams show, Zakspeed had been practising tyre changes since France after Brundle lost a wheel mid-race and, having amped up the Ford engines in the back of the Benetton cars, the technicians had to de-tune them a bit to try and maintain some reliability. Ligier started the weekend badly with Piercarlo Ghinzani excluded when he was refuelled out on the circuit and then ignored the end-of-session flags (both baffling errors given the long experience of both team and driver), and his team-mate Arnoux could only manage 16th on the grid. The mini-revival of 1986 looks a long way away for Ligier. The two Williams cars were on the front row of course, but Piquet’s pole wasn’t in the script and Mansell would have it all to do at the start. Senna and Prost shared row two, with the two Benettons of Boutsen and Fabi behind followed in formation by the two Ferraris. The Brabhams of de Cesaris and Patrese were 9th and 11th, sandwiching Stefan Johansson’s McLaren, with Satoru Nakajima 12th in the second Lotus. Pascal Fabre took up his usual position at the back of the grid alongside Ivan Capelli, with the two Tyrrells in front.
It looked on Sunday as if the script would be thrown away completely when the lights went green and it was Alain Prost who got the best start, passing both Williams drivcers into the first corner – but the superior Honda power told almost immediately, with first Piquet and then Mansell getting past the TAG-powered McLaren on lap one, then Senna following suit on lap two. The Lotus wasn’t quite as well-adapted to Silverstone as the Williams cars, however, and Prost was able to get back past on lap 5 and hold onto third while the two FW11Bs disappeared into the distance, and viewers had two races to watch: one between Piquet and Mansell and one between the rest. Mansell stuck with Piquet but was unable to make much headway and over the first thirty or so laps the race settled into a fixed order of Piquet, Mansell, Prost, Senna and Alboreto, while attrition as usual whittled away at the field behind. Berger put his Ferrari in the Armco on lap 8, Stefan Johansson’s difficult season continued with a rare TAG engine failure on lap 20 after having made up six places in five laps.
It was in danger of getting boring, but then, on lap 30, Mansell complained of vibrations and Prost peeled in for a new set of boots. 5 laps later, Mansell reluctantly came in himself, not losing second such was his lead over Senna. Piquet was apparently untroubled, though, and on advice from Goodyear technicians after examining the tyres left behind by Mansell and Prost, the Williams team put out a pit board reading “Tyres OK, 22” (laps to go). So now we had a race. A dominant Piquet led by 28 seconds over a driven Mansell on fresh rubber and, roared on by the supporters, the Briton put the hammer down with clear track ahead. On lap 46 he set a new lap record, then another on lap 53, then another on lap 58. Piquet’s lead was rapidly evaporating and by lap 60 Mansell was back behind him – but with only 5 laps left, could he find a way to get past? By now it was clear that the Goodyear techs had been mistaken and Piquet was suffering from grip problems, but he could still make his Williams as wide as possible and defend the line. And so he did; for lap after lap, Mansell tried to find a way past, dodging left and right but always Piquet was there in the way.
On lap 63 of 65, Mansell jinked to the left, Piquet moved to cover and Mansell dived right, almost banging wheels with his team-mate as he took the inside line at Stowe and took the lead, to the deafening cheers of the crowd. Piquet had been decisively sold a dummy and shown up, and Mansell took probably his most satisfying win so far, with Piquet third and Senna trailing in third, a full lap behind the Williamses. The crowd broke ranks and mobbed the track, a highly dangerous idea since cars were still racing.
Prost suffered his own TAG failure on lap 54, so a deserved fourth place was taken by the hard-trying Satoru Nakajima, with Warwick’s Arrows and Fabi’s Benetton taking the last points. Boutsen finished just outside the points in 7th, and in 8th and 9th – two laps down even on the Benettons – were the 3.5l runners Jonathan Palmer and Pascal Fabre, the latter maintaining his impressive 100% finish record for AGS.
Mansell thus drew level with Piquet on 30 points as the pair overtook Prost to go joint second, while Senna’s third was enough to keep him in the championship lead on 31. Meanwhile, with McLaren’s double DNF, Williams extended their Constructors’ lead to 21 points over them, with Lotus just two points behind. In the “junior” category, Palmer maintained his lead while Pascal Fabre’s second place and extraordinary consistency put him second in the Jim Clark Trophy despite having finished dead last in every race he’d driven.
What was clear, though, as the teams packed up, was that Honda was the engine to have at a power circuit like Silverstone – or like Hockenheim, which was the next stop on the agenda.
|9||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
|Jim Clark Cup|
|Colin Chapman Trophy|