Autódromo Hermaznos Rodríguez
29 May 1988
Two weeks after Monaco, the teams arrived at Mexico City for the first round of their three-race tour of North America. A far cry from the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera, the city was still rebuilding after the devastating earthquake three years earlier and was squalid and polluted even at the best of times. The bumpy, high-altitude circuit would favour the turbo runners to the tune of 27%, and most were expecting another McLaren benefit, given the form book so far.
Qualifying did nothing to dispel that notion, as Senna and Prost battled for pole position, and it was the Brazilian who won out, beating Mansell’s 1987 time set with four-bar boost. Prost was second, with Berger and Piquet on row 2. Alboreto in the second Ferrari lined up 5th, alongside an excellent Satoru Nakajima in his best-ever performance. Nannini’s Benetton was the top atmo car in 8th, while the Williams boys could only manage 14th (Mansell) and 17th (Patrese) behind even the Rial of Andrea de Cesaris – their “reactive” suspension system encountering all sorts of problems. Philippe Alliot had a spectacular shunt in Saturday’s session: coming out of Peraltada and losing the back end he knifed across the track, hit the pit wall and barrel-rolled down the track before coming to rest upside-down. Alliot was miraculously unhurt and had set a good enough time on Friday to qualify 19th, but whether he’d have a car to drive in the race was another matter.Poor Stefano Modena was disqualified again, this time for an illegal rear wing; he would be joined on the sidelines by Campos, Larini and both Tyrrell drivers (the first time since Austria 1985 that both of Ken’s men had DNQd).
Sunday came and the drivers lined up ready for the off – including Philippe Alliot, whose Larrousse-Calmels mechanics had stayed up all night rebuilding the Lola. The start was aborted when Nannini stalled his Benetton, but on the second attempt they all got away
and Prost shot off into the lead, while it was Senna’s turn for a start-line gremlin as a misbehaving pop-off valve slowed him enough for Piquet to grab second. The Lotus held Senna back through the twisty infield section, but the McLaren was past at Peraltada at the end of the lap. Prost had already pulled out a two-second lead by then and Senna was unable to make much of an impression on him. The damage to Alliot’s car was evidently not quite fixed, though, as his suspension gave way on lap 1, thankfully without pitching him into another major incident.
On lap 9 Berger got past Piquet for third, and began to eat into Senna’s by then already substantial lead, and the order remained Prost-Senna-Berger-Piquet-Alboreto until around half-distance when the Austrian was forced to back off as his fuel warning light came on. By this time, both Williamses were out, with Judd engine failures on laps 17 (Patrese) and 21 (Mansell), and Nakajima’s fine qualifying performance had also gone up in a puff of Honda smoke on lap 28. The race had devolved into a number of sub-races, interesting rather than riveting. At the front, Prost held Senna at bay while behind the McLarens, Berger was promoted back to third when Piquet also suffered an engine failure. He was followed by his team-mate Alboreto, while behind them the two Arrows drivers were enjoying their own private race. There was then another race again for the non-turbo cars, led by the two Benettons.
And that was pretty much how they finished: two by two with Prost leading home Senna, then the Ferraris of Berger and Alboreto, the Arrows of Warwick and Cheever and – just out of the points – the Benettons of Nannini and Boutsen. Special mentions to Yannick Dalmas, who brought his Larrousse home 9th from 22nd on the grid, and to Nannini who, it emerged, had been racing with a pinched nerve for most of the race and still beaten his team-mate. Berger, meanwhile, was left to wonder what might have been as it turned out his fuel warning light had come on in error. Could he have taken Senna to come second? Who knows.
As the teams packed their bags for the trip to Canada, rumours were already beginning to swirl that Honda were dissatisfied with Lotus’ performance so far and would not be renewing their contract. Williams had lots more work to do on their suspension, and everyone else was wondering just how to beat McLaren, who had dominated the first four races so far.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.