15 May 1988
Off to the principality again for the first of the season’s tight, twisty circuits. With raw power mattering less here than elsewhere, competition was expected to be tighter and the playing field between turbo and non-turbo cars much more level. On the other hand, Prost and Senna had won the last four Monaco GPs between them, and now they were together at a McLaren team which had looked pretty unbeatable at the year’s first two races.
Qualifying would prove once again the sheer superiority of the McLaren combination. Ayrton Senna took his third successive pole position, a whopping 1.427s ahead of team-mate Prost (no slouch in qualifying), and a stunning 2.687s ahead of third-placed Berger. Alboreto lined up fourth. Top of the non-turbos was Mansell, 5rh, lining up alongside Nannini’s Benetton. The Arrows cars were proving to be strong qualifiers, and Warwick and Cheever lined up 7th and 9th, split by Patrese in the second Williams-Judd, while in 10th place was a delighted Jonathan Palmer, a fan of the circuit. A bad day for Lotus, whose drivers both hated the place; Nelson Piquet lined up 11th, alongside an excellent Streiff in the AGS, while Nakajima failed to qualify for the first time in his F1 career. He would be joined in sitting out Sunday’s race by Julian Bailey in the second Tyrrell, Adrian Campos, Bernd Schneider (who had still to make a raceday appearance) and an unhappy Stefano Modena who was disqualified for ignoring signals to come in for a weigh-in.
The two McLarens leapt off the grid side-by-side but Prost fumbled for second gear and Berger took the opportunity to grab second spot as they filtered through St Devote. Caffi spun and hit a wall in the Dallara, ending his race, while Streiff’s immense qualifying performance came to nothing with a snapped throttle cable. No major pile-ups at the first corner for a change, though, and the first lap was relatively uneventful, except for defending champion Piquet, who rubbed his front wing off on Cheever’s Arrows and retired, completing a dire weekend for Lotus but probably not too unhappy not to have to drive 78 laps of the circuit. Cheever continued on his way, only to suffer a blown engine on lap 9.
With overtaking always a problem at the narrow street circuit, the order remained Senna-Berger-Prost-Mansell-Alboreto-Nannini for nearly half the race, though behind the leaders there was the usual mechanical attrition: in addition to Cheever, Tarquini (suspension, lap 6), Johansson (engine, lap 7), Larrauri (brake failure, lap 15), Arnoux (engine, lap 16) and de Cesaris (engine, lap 29) had all gone for an early bath before a frustrated Michele Alboreto shook up the leaderboard on lap 33 by trying a banzai overtaking manoeuvre on Mansell and punting the Williams off before continuing on his way.
Patrese, meanwhile, had had a bad stop and was working his way through traffic in the other Williams on lap 51 when Philippe Alliot – apparently not using his Lola’s wing mirrors – turned in on him at Mirabeau and was tipped into the wall. Some quick reactions on Patrese’s part meant the Williams was able to continue while the Lola ended up in the tyre wall minus various pieces. Prost had been nipping at Berger’s heels for most of the race and on lap 54 he slipstreamed down the pit straight and snuck through at St Devote into second. Senna by now had a huge lead of about 50 seconds with 23 laps to go, but Prost nonetheless put the hammer down to try and catch up. Senna responded, and the pair traded fastest laps for a while before team boss Ron Dennis stepped in to ask both men to back off and concentrate on finishing, lest one of them do something silly. Ironically, that is exactly what Senna proceeded to do – a momentary lapse in concentration at Portier and the car was in the barrier with broken suspension. The Brazilian, absolutely livid with himself, headed straight for his Monaco apartment to stew.
Prost was left free and clear to win the race, with Berger and Alboreto coming second and third for Ferrari. Derek Warwick was the only Megatron runner not to have an engine failure in the first 20 laps and was rewarded with a fine fourth place, with Palmer’s Tyrrell fifth after a race-long battle with the Arrows. Riccardo Patrese took the final point – his first for Williams, the team’s first of the year and engine supplier Judd’s first ever – after (nervously) overtaking Dalmas in the other Larrousse-Calmels Lola on the last lap.
The McLaren team didn’t hear from Senna until the evening when he reappeared at the garage while they were packing up, having finally calmed down. He had slipped to third in the standings behind Prost and Berger, while Ferrari had closed slightly on McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.