Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez
18 October 1987
The F1 circus returned to Mexico after a successful race in 1986 saw Gerhard Berger win his and the Benetton team’s first race, and this year the title could be decided in Piquet’s favour if he won, or alternatively Mansell or Senna could close the gap. Franco Forini’s deal with Osella over, they reverted to one car for the fly-away races, while Larrousse-Calmels instead expanded to two cars, giving a debut to French “coming man” Yannick Dalmas who would not be eligible to score points. Coloni had finished their exploratory run and returned to their Passignano base to prepare for the 1988 season.
29. Yannick Dalmas
Brought up in Toulon, young Yannick regularly went to watch racing at Paul Ricard and it was there that he conceived his love of motorsport. It quickly became obvious that he was talented, winning the “Marlboro Cherche une Pilote” scheme, earning him Marlboro sponsorship for a full season of Formula Renault. He finished third overall, then won the title in his sophomore year before heading off to Formula 3 where he finished second in his rookie year and again won the title at the second attempt. Moving to Formula 3000 for 1987, he was dubbed “the new Prost” and started brightly, before an accident put him out for a race. Larrousse-Calmels offered him the chance to try out Formula One while still fighting for the F3000 title, on the back of a win at the tricky Pau street circuit.
Facilities had been improved at the Mexico City circuit, but the track was still bumpy, the city still oppressive and smog-filled, with the poverty and property damage from 1985’s devastating earthquake still uncomfortably at odds with the wealth and glamour of Formula One. Jean-Marie Balestre dismissed concerns of the track surface, and doubled down by announcing a 1988 ban on active suspension systems that helped smooth out such rough rides. At 7000 feet above sea level, the thin air meant that normally-aspirated teams were at a distinct disadvantage (to the tune of some 450 hp), and those with both turbo engines and active suspension were in the best position of all.
Qualifying saw the bumpy track becoming a serious problem as both Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna lost control on the Pits Bend corner and went flying off. Mansell managed to slow down a bit before impact but Senna walloped the tyre-wall at around 130mph – only the strength of his carbon-fibre monocoque prevented serious injury. Mansell rallied to take pole once again (both Williams drivers had opted for passive cars) ahead of Gerhard Berger, with Piquet third alongside Boutsen, Prost fifth and Fabi sixth. All of the top six were covered by just 0.6s, which boded well for the race. Debutant Dalmas (above) put in an impressive performance to outqualify his team-mate and start 23rd, while Pascal Fabre Goodyear, having learned lessons from last year when Pirelli-shod Berger had won by staying out while the Goodyears disintegrated in the dry heat, had brought alternative harder tyres – though only Piquet opted to use them on race day.
The grid lined up and the lights went green, and chaos ensued. As the field charged down to the first corner, Prost tried to overtake Piquet and the two touched, spinning Piquet and breaking his own steering arm. Prost was out on the spot while the marshals ran out to deliver a push-start to the stalled Piquet once the rest of the cars had gone. Piquet set off in urgent pursuit of the pack. Up at the front, Mansell had also got away badly and Berger led Boutsen, with Mansell third ahead of Alboreto, Fabi, Senna and the Brabhams. With Prost already out, Satoru Nakajima soon followed suit, apparently having a brain-fade and simply driving right into the back of Derek Warwick who headed back to the pits for repairs, while Johansson and Danner collided avoiding the wayward Lotus. Both McLarens, Danner and Nakajima out on lap 1 and Piquet in last place. It was looking like an interesting race already, and on lap 2 it got even more interesting as Thierry Boutsen took the lead for the first time ever. He held the lead for 13 laps, looking every inch as if he belonged there, before Berger was past again and Boutsen was in to retire with electrical failure.
So Berger was back at the head of the Mexican GP and Ferrari fans’ hearts soared to see a red car ahead – but only for seven laps before his engine expired in a plume of smoke. Alboreto’s had already done so – another double-DNF for Ferrari. So Mansell now led Senna, with de Cesaris’ Brabham right on his tail, followed by Patrese, Cheever and – incredibly – Piquet. Between a spate of retirements and some inspired driving, he had made his way from dead last up to 6th. That became 4th on
lap 23 when he got past Eddie Cheever just as an aggrieved Andrea de Cesaris was being shoved off by Senna, defending his line despite missing a gear. Could he, in the next 40 laps, continue his charge to the lead?
We would never know, because on lap 31 Derek Warwick emulated Mansell and Senna in practice, hitting a bump at the Pit Bend and slamming into the pit wall at 160mph. Again miraculously unhurt, the dazed Briton climbed out but the race had to be stopped while the debris was cleared. With less than half-distance gone, a restart would be needed, the race was reduced to 63 laps from 68, and rather than track position it would be aggregate times that would provide the result – a fair but somewhat unsatisfying arrangement last used at the 1983 British Grand Prix.
The remaining 15 drivers took the restart, having been allowed to change tyres – which annoyed Piquet, who had been making headway on his more durable hard tyres as the softer, faster compound began wearing out. The Brazilian was determined, though, and shot off the line, passing Mansell on the track and, with a clear track ahead, set off to see about eating into his team-mate’s substantial aggregate lead. He was already third on aggregate ahead of Patrese by lap 33, and on lap 38 “passed” Senna for second. The Lotus driver was having his own problems by this stage. That missed gear that led to de Cesaris’ retirement earlier was no driver error, but a problem with his gearbox and it was once again playing up. Missing a change right in the middle of a corner, Senna spun and ended up facing the wrong way in exactly the kind of “dangerous position” that Piquet had been happily push-started from at the first start. Only this time, the marshals tried to push the car off to retire, to Senna’s fury. Hopping out, he landed a punch on one of the unfortunate marshals before fuming off into retirement and out of the championship race, which was now between Piquet and Mansell.
Piquet was still cutting into Mansell’s lead but it soon became clear that he wasn’t doing it fast enough and, with Mansell able to simply circulate safely and respond to Piquet’s lap timings, it was the Briton who crossed the line second but the race winner, with Piquet second and Mansell’s new team-mate for 1988, Riccardo Patrese, an excellent third in the ever-improving Brabham and his first podium visit since 1984. An equally delighted Eddie Cheever took fourth for Arrows, with Teo Fabi 5th and Alliot picking up the final point for Larrousse-Calmels for the second race running. In fact, at a circuit where the 3 1/2 litre cars were supposed to struggle to even go the distance, Palmer, Streiff and Dalmas followed Alliot home in 7th, 8th and 9th places – albeit the last runners.
So on now to a wholly new circuit and a new venue: the Suzuka circuit in Japan, owned by the Honda concern who would hope to see the coronation of “their man” Piquet, ideally leading home Mansell in a perfect 1-2 finish. With just two races to go and two drivers left in the hunt, there would be all to play for. Mansell had closed the gap to 12 points but still had work to do if he was to take the title away from his great rival Piquet.
Nelson, meanwhile, didn’t get the benefit of all six points, as the rules allowed drivers only to count their top 11 scores – a rule brought in to minimise the penalty for mechanical unreliability. This was Piquet’s 12th points finish, so he had to discard his worst – ironically, the three points he’d taken in the previous race.
|14||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
* Only top 11 results counted
|Jim Clark Cup|
|Colin Chapman Trophy|