26 July 1987
Many of the teams headed for West Germany early in order to do some testing at the fast circuit near Heidelberg. Ayrton Senna had a very close escape when his rear tyre failed at over 300kph and pitched him into a tyre wall so hard that the Lotus team couldn’t find all the bits, many of which had flown into the forest. It was reported that Senna had picked up a small puncture but that his active suspension had kept him at the usual ride height and masked the problem – a potential black mark against the system. Nevertheless, Goodyear flew out a new batch of tyres from their Ohio factory in time for the race itself.
As usual, the best times over Friday and Saturday’s sessions would define the grid, and the punters looked forward to the usual dramatic last few minutes of Saturday qualifying which usually provided splendid entertainment. Not this weekend, though, because on Saturday the heavens opened and the track was subjected to a hammering downpour. Only 15 cars ventured out at all, and there was clearly no chance of anyone improving on their Friday time. Nigel Mansell was left sitting on Pole for the sixth time in eight races – and in an astonishing time, just 0.6s slower than Rosberg’s pole time from 1986, with full turbo boost. Lining up alongside once more would be the yellow Lotus of Ayrton Senna, just 0.2s off Mansell’s pace. Prost had a new engine in his McLaren and was much happier with it – he lined up third. Piquet was a disgruntled fourth after having had car problems on Friday, with Alboreto an encouraging fifth in the Ferrari, which had more new tweaks from John Barnard – however Berger crashed in Friday practice and his new experimental rear wing was stolen by a souvenir hunter so the fuming Austrian could only manage tenth. Sixth was Boutsen in the Benetton, with Fabi ninth, as the team debuted the newest version of Ford’s turbo engine. At this power circuit, the non-turbo cars were massively, hilariously off the pace, with the lead atmo car being Philippe Alliot’s Lola, 21st on the grid and a full ten seconds off Mansell’s pole time. Pundits and drivers alike expressed concern at the potential danger of having these “mobile chicanes” on track.
Race day dawned dry, to everyone’s relief, and the drivers lined up on the track; Senna having opted for the spare Lotus, having been unhappy with the race car in morning warm-up. The Brazilian’s instincts seemed to have proved strong; when the green lights came on, the Lotus surged into the lead, followed by Prost, who elbowed past Mansell as they headed into the forest section. The Brit wasn’t going to leave it at that, though, and got back ahead before the lap was out. Coming into the stadium section, Senna led Mansell, Prost, Piquet, Alboreto, Boutsen and Johansson, all running closely together and this seven-car battle continued for several laps, to the entertainment of all. Except Senna, because he was now finding he’d got severe understeer and was dropping back, soon fourth behind Mansell, Prost and Piquet. Behind them, Alboreto was frantically trying to keep Boutsen behind him, jinking this way and that to keep the Benetton at bay. On lap 8, Prost got himself ahead of Mansell again, took the lead and managed to hold it this time.
Two laps later, the luckless Michele Alboreto pulled over with another car failure – his fifth time in eight races. Boutsen was up to fifth, and Johansson up into the points. Piquet was dropping back: his electronic instrument panel having gone dead, he had no idea what his fuel status was and had dialled back the boost a bit to make sure.
Most cars were stopping once, with Prost going in early on lap 19 and Mansell trying to get the hammer down and come in late. He rejoined 3.5 seconds behind and with fresh tyres and a record lap under his belt he was gaining fast – but then on lap 26, something seized in his engine and he was out, just like that. The Briton checked in at the motorhome but headed straight for the airport and was back at home on the Isle of Man in time to watch the evening highlights on the BBC. So that left Prost cruising with a massive gap over Nelson Piquet. Senna had dropped back with a catalogue of car problems – as well as the understeer, the oil reserve for his active suspension had leaked dry and his boost control had failed – so Stefan Johansson was now running third, while Ghinzani was having a good race for once in the Ligier and was up in fifth. Not for long, though; he was out on lap 32 to cap a dreadful race for the French team, whose drivers had destroyed two engines apiece in practice.
With big gaps, there was little movement in the closing stages of the race. Senna had fought his way back up to fourth and Piquet’s VDU had come back on, showing him he had
plenty of fuel, so the Brazilian turned his boost back up and was reeling in Prost at two seconds per lap, but there just wasn’t going to be enough race left to catch him. Until, that is, Prost’s alternator let go and the McLaren coasted to a halt just five laps from victory and a jubilant, very lucky Piquet swept through to take his first win of 1987. Johansson salvaged some points from McLaren’s disappointment with second place and Senna trailed in third and lapped, just as he had in Britain. Only 6 cars finished and as it turned what the 3.5l cars lacked in pace they made up for in reliability. In their best result of the year so far, Tyrrell took fourth (Streiff) and fifth (Palmer) places, while Alliot’s Lola took the final point, the team’s first-ever. Not only that, the atmo cars were only a lap behind the leaders and on the same lap as Senna.
In 1986, wins for Mansell in Britain and France had been followed by Piquet victories in Germany and Hungary. As he offered the philosophical Prost a lift back to the paddock on his sidepod, Piquet would be hoping that the script held at the next race. At the mid-point of the season, Piquet now led the Drivers’ Championship by 5 points over Senna, with both third-placed Mansell and fourth-placed Prost both failing to score.
|10||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
|Jim Clark Cup|
|Colin Chapman Trophy|