Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
12 June 1988
The Grand Prix circus returned to Montreal after a year off induced by sponsor bickering. The circuit had used the opportunity to make some improvements to the facilities and had built a new pit lane and paddock at the other end of the circuit, moving the start-finish line to the Epingle de l’île end and reprofiling a couple of corners to accommodate. Nothing major had changed in the circuit layout though and it was still the same fast but fuel-guzzling track, so the turbo brigade would have to be careful with their boost during the race. With McLaren so dominant, a couple of voices were loudly wishing for a change. Prost sympathised, “but our job is to win. You can hardly expect us to slow down to stop people getting bored!”
He was right. Qualifying was another McLaren white-and-red-wash, with Senna taking pole for the fifth time in five races with a 0.182s advantage over Prost. All red on the second row with Berger and Alboreto’s Ferraris over a second off Senna’s pace, and Nannini the top non-turbo in 5th, just pipping Piquet to the spot. Nigel Mansell could only manage 9th in the atmospheric Williams-Judd, lining up alongside an excellent Phillippe Streiff in the AGS. Patrese in the second Williams was 11th, with Andrea de Cesaris alongside in the equally impressive Rial. Another good performer in qualifying was Stefano Modena who demonstrated why he was being talked of as a future star by putting his EuroBrun 15th to bounce back from being disqualified from the last two races.
Interestingly – and as Senna vocally pointed out to anyone who would listen – with the new position for the grid, it was actually the second-placed car that had the better line into the first corner rather than the pole-sitter. The organisers said that there wasn’t a lot they could do about it after the fact..
And so to the race itself, where fuel consumption and suspension were expected to be the two biggest issues on the fast but bumpy circuit, regularly broken up by the harsh Canadian winter. In fact, the Honda technicians had advised both McLaren and Lotus to turn the boost down to 2.3 bar and not to exceed 11,000 rpm (of a possible 13,000) to conserve fuel. Mansell and Patrese, meanwhile, looked forward grimly to a long 69 laps with their “reactive” suspension still not working properly. Also in discomfort was Derek Warwick, who had wiped out badly in his Arrows on Saturday but was passed fit and was keen to race despite being badly bruised. The weather was hot and windy as the teams lined up and the lights went green.
Prost validated Senna’s earlier complaints by leaping off the line and getting into the first turn ahead, with the familiar sight of two red-and-white McLarens in the lead being followed by the equally familiar sight of two crimson Ferraris wheezing along trying to keep up. Berger made a commendable effort for ten laps or so until his onboard fuel computer told him if he didn’t back off he wouldn’t finish, so he did, and past came not Alboreto but Boutsen and Nannini, the two Benettons having already got past the number 27 Ferrari. The top atmo cars were looking good for their money and it did actually look like they might do something a bit special as they hared off in pursuit of Prost and Senna – at least until Nannini disappeared on lap 15 when a fuel hose split and shorted out his electronics.
By lap 19, Prost was already encountering backmarkers, and it was while he was making his usual patient, clinical way past that Senna saw his chance and made a banzai passing manoeuvre that put him into the lead (the first time all season that one of the McLarens had passed the other one, in fact). Prost said after the race that he always knew Senna was more gung-ho in traffic than he, and commented “I suppose I could have blocked him, but that’s not my way” – perhaps as a double World Champion you have the luxury of being gentlemanly. So it was Senna, Prost, Boutsen, Berger and Alboreto. Behind them were best pals Piquet and Mansell, with the Briton driving his heart out with the prospect of putting one over on the reigning champion – which he did on lap 23. On the same lap, Berger coasted to a halt with a dead engine: it turned out that an incorrect control chip had been fitted. He was followed into retirement 11 laps later by his team-mate with an engine failure of his own. Mansell’s triumph, meanwhile, was shortlived as his Judd engine seized up on lap 29 and Patrese followed suit 3 laps later.
So with Senna and Prost up front and Boutsen ploughing a lonely furrow in third, it was all getting very interesting behind. Just as Senna was underlining how right McLaren had got their car by beating Piquet’s 1987 lap record (set in a 4-bar boost car), Piquet himself was scrapping to defend fourth place from Philippe Streiff’s AGS. Yes, really. And behind him were de Cesaris (Rial), Capelli (March) and Modena (Eurobrun). If anything went astray with the McLarens, Boutsen and/or Piquet, there could be some very interesting faces on the podium indeed!
In the event though, the mechanical unreliability that always had the capacity to shake things up declined to do so on this occasion: Senna and Prost cruised to another 1-2 win for McLaren, with Boutsen settling for third and Piquet hung on for fourth. Behind him, Streiff had spun in his efforts to get by and de Cesaris had heartbreakingly run out of fuel with two laps to go so Capelli took fifth and Jonathan Palmer a slightly surprised sixth – his drink bottle had come loose and been rattling round the footwell most of the race and it was a minor miracle it hadn’t got wedged under one of the pedals.
More celebrations for the Woking team, more head-scratching for everyone else. Lotus had the same engine and the same support but were nowhere near McLaren for pace. Ferrari were all over the shop, and as usual that meant politics and backstabbing back home at Maranello (which never helped, and it wasn’t helping this time either. Even if Williams could get their suspension working, their engine wasn’t up to snuff and 1989 couldn’t come quickly enough.
Still, the March and Tyrrell teams had something to celebrate too, and Rial, EuroBrun and AGS could look back with a certain satisfaction on a good day’s work even if there were no points to show for it.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.