Autodromo Dino Ferrari, Imola
1 May 1988
After Ferrari’s back to back wins at the end of 1987, the Tifosi arrived at Imola hoping to see their teams first win at Imola since Patrick Tambay in 1983. The McLarens had looked too good in Brazil but Berger had shown grit and speed, even if Alboreto had been somewhat anonymous. Fuel consumption would be an interesting factor here – the circuit was notoriously “thirsty” and the turbo cars had an even more restricted fuel supply this year, so there was potential for the atmospheric cars to mix it up a bit as well.
However, Friday and Saturday qualifying poured a certain amount of cold water on their hopes. The McLaren pairing of Prost and Senna simply blew everyone else away whether the weather was wet, dry or somewhere in between. Senna took pole with Prost second (remarkably only the third front-row lockout in the team’s long history), a whopping 3.352 seconds ahead of Nelson Piquet in third. So the Hondas were definitely the fastest engine out there. More worryingly for the Ferrari fans was that Alessandro Nannini had put his Benetton fourth, ahead of both their guys, despite having an atmospheric engine. Berger was fifth and Alboreto back in tenth, both complaining of a lack of straight-line speed.
Of the other challengers, Nigel Mansell could only make 11th – the first time he’d been off the front row since Mexico 1986 – and was outqualified by Patrese, 6th in the other Williams-Judd. Cheever was 7th in the Arrows, which was increasingly looking like a decent machine, with Boutsen 8th and Capelli 9th – another top ten start in the March.Rial and Coloni both had good sessions and lined up 16th (de Cesaris, Rial) and 17th (Tarquini, Coloni). Both Tyrrells qualified this time, with Julian Bailey making his race debut from 21st, ahead of more experienced Palmer in 23rd. Caffi was 24th in the new Dallara, Ghinzani 25th in the Zakspeed and Stefano Modena brought up the rear in the EuroBrun. Osella arrived having moved the engine mounts on their car, which resulted in it being classed as a “new” chassis and no longer exempt from the new design regulations and was disqualified. No need for Pre-qualifying then, and the four to miss out on the race were Oscar Larrauri, Stefan Johansson, Rene Arnoux and Bernd Schneider. Wait – both Ligiers? Yes – for the first time ever, both French cars failed to qualify. They had struggled in Brazil with their suspension but the redesign had made things even worse and they were 8.5 and 8.975 seconds off the pace respectively.
At the start, it was Senna’s turn to surge into the lead while Prost got away sluggishly, the Frenchman dropping to sixth behind Senna, Piquet, Patrese, Nannini and Berger. Of course, given the size of the gap in qualifying, it was inevitable that this state of affairs wouldn’t last long. In the meantime though, cars quickly began falling by the wayside: de Cesaris’ Rial with a suspension failure on lap 2; Capelli’s March with a gearbox failure on lap 3 – both frustrated to see their fine qualifying form so quickly come to naught.
Prost began carving his way back up through the field; by lap six he was third behind Piquet, who was mounting the same Honda powerplant. The ease with which Prost passed the reigning and three-time World Champion two laps later was a matter of consternation in the Lotus garage. By now, though, Senna was some way ahead and, being informed through his pit-car radio of the gap, he could respond any time Prost tried to close up.
Behind the McLarens as they played a high-speed game of tactical chess, Piquet held on to third but was clearly struggling to do so. The Lotus 100T just wasn’t working properly and he was holding up the others behind him. For 52 laps, a shifting cast composed of the Williams, Benetton and Ferrari cars all swapped places and took it in turns to try and grab third but the wily Piquet outfoxed them all. Remarkably there was little attrition in the race. Nigel Mansell disappeared with an engine failure on lap 43 and Alboreto had a similar problem on lap 54, but overall 19 cars finished of the 26 which started.
Ayrton Senna cruised problem-free to his seventh career win, while Prost could be satisfied with second place and the fastest lap. Not only did his six points keep him on top of the standings, but it also made him the all time top points scorer with 421.5. Nelson Piquet hung tenaciously on to finish third for the second race running, and behind him the final order was Boutsen, Berger and Nannini, with Eddie Cheever just missing out in 7th.
The weekend had been such an effortless demonstration by McLaren that the rest were justly nervous. But Monaco was next, a circuit that always had the potential to mix things up.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.