Autódromo do Estoril
20 September 1987
Everybody loves Estoril with its bracing sea air, challenging circuit and entertaining night life. This was the fourth Portuguese Grand Prix, and the last three had been corkers; in 1984 Prost had won the race but Lauda the championship, in 1985 Senna had taken his first victory and last year Mansell had dominated the race to put one hand on the Drivers’ Championship trophy. Prost was out of the running this year but could still win races, while Piquet, Mansell and Senna were all still very much in the championship race.
With the title race hotting up, all the top teams had spent the two weeks between races testing extensively; McLaren working on their troublesome engine-management software at Monza, Williams giving Mansell more track miles with the active car at Brands, and Ferrari still tweaking the improving F187 at their own Fiorano facility.
Coloni had not made the trip to Portugal, though they hoped to make it to Jerez the following week, but otherwise the field was as per Italy as the teams headed out for Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions in a hot, muggy atmosphere that promised thunder. It didn’t come, but the racegoers got fireworks instead as the usual Williams, McLaren and Lotus qualifying battle was interrupted by interlopers in red. The Ferraris seemed to finally have come good thanks to John Barnard, aerodynamicist Harvey Postlethwaite and their team’s tireless work and when the dust settled they had their first pole since Brazil 1985 – and Gerhard Berger’s career first. Nigel Mansell lined up alongside, with Prost and Piquet on row 2, Senna fifth and Alboreto sixth in the second Ferrari despite a fire in the Lotus and gearbox problems in the Ferrari. Patrese, Johansson, Boutsen and Fabi made up the top ten, while the two Osellas of Caffi and Forini took up the last row, leaving Pascal Fabre and the AGS team as the sole non-qualifier.
At 2.30 on a sunny Sunday, the red lights went green and 26 cars roared away from the grid with Mansell snatching the lead from Berger into turn 1 with Prost, Piquet and Alboreto following. But as they came out of turn 1, Piquet and Alboreto touched and the Williams sustained a puncture. Derek Warwick had to brake, collected Nakajima’s Lotus and resulting multiple pile-up also took out Brundle, Fabi, Danner, Campos, Arnoux, Alliot and Cheever. With cars all over the track and drivers and marshals milling around, the organisers unbelievably failed to get the black flags out to sto tpe race until the leaders – Berger now ahead of Mansell again – came on the scene. Fortunately , all was well and the race was stopped, allowing most of the drivers to take the restart – Alboreto, Piquet, Brundle, Fabi and Cheever in the spares, Campos and Palmer from the pitlane, and the luckless Danner left carless as his team leader Brundle had the spare Zakspeed.
For the thrird race running, there was a second start, with Mansell once again taking the lead and Senna leaping up to third, and Piquet, Prost and Alboreto following. But along the start-finish straight, Berger got a tow behind Mansell, dodged out and took the lead. The Ferrari working well, its Austrian pilot began pulling out a lead while Mansell diced with Senna over second place, while Piquet, Prost and Alboreto all jostled for position behind. Alboreto, so often lacklustre in the Ferrari of late, calmly disposed of Prost while Piquet overtook Senna on lap 11, taking advantage of the fluctuating revs coming from the Lotus’ misfiring Honda engine. After dropping back to seventh, Senna finally came into the pits for a new control box for his engine, rejoining last but one and three laps down, to the vocal disappointment of the partisan Portuguese crowd who supported Brazilians in lieu of any Grand Prix drivers of their own.
Three laps later, more drama as Mansell toured off on turn one with engine problems – just as he had in Italy, to the dark mutterings of those who believed Honda were now deliberately sabotaging him. By lap 23, one-third distance, Berger had a commanding lead over Piquet, with Alboreto third and on a charge. On lap 27, it became a Ferrari 1-2 as Alboreto eased past Prost. The tyre stops changed things up as they usually did; by half-
distance on lap 35 Alboreto now led Berger, with a non-stopping Fabi third, then Prost, Piquet and de Cesaris. Prost on fresh tyres soon disposed of Fabi and began chasing the Ferraris. Heartbreak for Alboreto on lap 39 as that gearbox problem came back and put him out. So now Prost was chasing Berger, scenting his record-breaking 28th win, having been stuck on 27 for what was an age by his standards. On lap 41, Prost broke the lap record, but Berger broke it right back again. Nonetheless, the Professor kept up the pressure, closing relentlessly on Berger as the laps ticked down.
Finally, just three laps before the end and with his tyres on the ragged edge, Berger lost it and spun. He recovered, but Prost was in the lead and that was that. He finally overtook Jackie Stewart’s record to become the winningest F1 driver ever, and proved you could never, ever, write off McLaren and Prost. Berger was naturally disappointed with second under the circumstances, but could be happy with his weekend overall, and Piquet trailed in a distant third, the only driver on the same lap as the leaders. Such was his season so far that that was the lowest points-scoring position he’d finished in, but he was happy to have stretched his lead over Mansell and Senna. His Brazilian rival had carved through the field since his long pit-stop but had only been able to manage seventh in the end, and it was Teo Fabi, Stefan Johansson and Eddie Cheever who took the remaning points. In the 3.5l category, Ivan Capelli brought his March home 9th, behind the two Loti, to take the 9 points, with Jonathan Palmer behind and Streiff finishing 12th overall to come third in the category.
With four races to go, Piquet was sitting pretty, 18 points ahead of Senna and 24 ahead of Mansell. Prost, 27 points adrift, could mathematically still win but would need to win all four races with none of the other three scoring; not particularly likely.
|12||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
|Jim Clark Cup|
|Colin Chapman Trophy|