16 August 1987
Unlike the preceding circuit, the Österreichring was built for speed, with long straights and wide sweeping corners. The circuit was also showing its age, though, with a bumpy surface (including one notorious bump in the pit straight) and a narrow start/finish straight that was becoming increasingly cramped. McLaren had won the last three races here – Lauda in 1984 and Prost the last two years, and with two weeks between the nearby races, teams took a leisurely journey back across the Iron Curtain and spent their time working on the low-downforce setup. Honda would be making their 100th start as an engine supplier amid rumours that they would be powering the McLaren team instead of Williams for 1988 and Nigel Mansell was making his 100th start as well.
The uneven circuit was one that the Lotus’ active suspension had proved a big advantage at earlier in the season, but the yellow cars were having trouble with their system and Senna and Nakajima both struggled for pace in practice. Stefan Johansson had a scare on Friday; towards the end of the session he came over the Rindtkurve hill and saw a deer on the track. Too late to brake or avoid it, he struck the poor animal at 160mph, killing it instantly and sending his car minus two wheels into the armco. The Swede was not seriously harmed (though rather shaken) but there was criticism of the track marshals who hadn’t stopped the session when the deer appeared some ten minutes earlier, nor did they prevent souvenir hunters stripping the McLaren of some expensive parts.
Mansell had troubles of his own: a painful abscess in his wisdom tooth had finally required seeing to and the tooth removing under local anaesthetic. Demonstrating his customary grit, he went out and put in a scorching qualifying lap, faster even than Teo Fabi’s 1986 time. But he wasn’t to get the Pole; at the end of Friday’s session, while Mansell was conducting full-tank testing, Piquet went even quicker, grabbing first spot with an amazing average speed of 160.2mph – the fastest lap ever recorded. On Saturday it rained, so that was how things stayed; Berger (feeling much better) was an excellent third, with the Benettons fourth (Boutsen) and fifth (Fabi). Alboreto’s second Ferrari was sixth. What of Prost and Senna? The Brazilian was seventh, with the active suspension still not working properly, and three-time winner Prost back in ninth alongside Patrese’s Brabham, complaining of a lack of power and rear-end grip. A shaken Johansson was back in 14th, alongside the other Lotus of Nakajima.
Sunday was fine, to everyone’s relief, and at 2.30 local time, the green lights went on and off they went, Boutsen rocketing up to second place behind Mansell. But behind him, Martin Brundle hit the infamous pit straight bump in his Zakspeed, speared across the track, bounced off the armco and back across the track again. In the process of avoiding him, the two Tyrrells collided with each other and both Ligiers were also out; Arnoux hit by Campos and Ghinzani pushed wide into the barriers. Out came the red flags. Forty minutes later
they tried again – between repairs and spare cars, all 26 made the restart. The lights went green, Mansell’s clutch slipped, the Williams stayed put and another multiple pile-up was the result with no fewer than 12 cars involved this time. Out came the red flags again.
Finally, nearly two hours after the first start, 25 cars got going at the third attempt – a record six of them from the pit lane – with Philippe Streiff the only one without a car. Mansell was a little more cautious on the clutch this time, so it was Piquet
that took the lead, followed by Boutsen and Berger. Boutsen seemed inspired, harrying Piquet for lap after lap, but an unhappy Berger only held onto third place for three laps, then began falling back with a dodgy turbo unit, which finally gave up the ghost on lap six. Mansell was thus promoted to third, which became second on lap 15 as a fuming Boutsen pulled into the pits to have his gearbox fixed. Second became first just six laps later as Mansell caught and passed Piquet for the lead.
And that was where he stayed, for the rest of the race was mercifully uneventful for the most part. Prost put on a great drive to come from the pit lane to third, only to fade again with boost and electrical problems and eventually finished sixth. Alboreto ran third for a while as well before retiring on lap 43 with turbo problems – another pointless race for Ferrari, despite the promise of their improved car. Senna was another who ran third for a while, having raced up from 18th and the pit lane, but had a coming-together with Alboreto and lost his front wing, pitted, then pitted again for new tyres, eventually finishing fifth. While all the big names had fallen by the wayside it was the Benettons which stayed the distance and finished third (Fabi) and fourth (Boutsen) for their best finish so far in 1987.
Nigel Mansell won his 100th grand prix – after doing an extra lap because the man with the checquered flag didn’t see him finish – to close to four points behind Senna in the championship. Indeed, Lotus’ performance had fallen off sufficiently of late that the Brazilian was looking unlikely to hold onto second place, let along sustain a championship challenge. Prost, meanwhile, conceded his title challenge: “I must now admit, I think, that I will not be this year’s World Champion”. But would he have Ayrton Senna for a team-mate next year as many believed? And if so, would the team have Honda power?
In the 3.5l stakes, Capelli and March took the honours for a change, with Alliot’s Larrousse second and Palmer third, but the Briton stretched his Jim Clark Trophy lead over the unfortunate Streiff who didn’t survive the second start.
|12||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
|Jim Clark Cup|
|Colin Chapman Trophy|