1988 Detroit Grand Prix

DetroitDetroit Street Circuit
19 June 1988

The Formula One community returned to Detroit without much enthusiasm – the drivers hated the circuit, which was bumpy, difficult to pass on and unpleasant to drive. The teams hated that as a street circuit there were no permanent pit facilities so they had to work out in the street in the height of summer. Everyone hated being in Detroit, which was in full-on urban decline. And to cap it all, in 1988, they were on the last leg of a tiring North American tour and had been living out of suitcases and away from home and family for over three weeks. Not that this prevented Minardi from replacing the underwhelming Adrian Campos with team old-boy Pierluigi Martini.

det88-senna-pitsAt least this would be the last year at the unpopular circuit with a move to a new purpose built circuit at nearby Belle Isle, but that didn’t help the mood in 1988 any.

And it was hot. The sun hammered down on cars, drivers and teams with little shade to be found and the tarmac – heavily used all year round and not designed for the stresses of F1 racing – became greasy, oily, covered in rubber “marbles” and then started breaking up. Friday qualifying was just about OK, but after 10 minutes into Saturday’s session you could pretty much forget improving your time. There were some spectacular offs: Ivan Capelli hit the pitwall hard and was taken to hospital with a cracked a foot bone, hitting marshals and spectators with debris in the process, while Modena lost the back end and hit the barriers at turn 6 backwards, also heading to the hospital for a check-up. Both accidents could have been much worse.


martini23. Pierluigi Martini it

The little Italian had driven Minardi’s debut effort in 1985, and had looked almost hilariously out of his depth. However, with two more seasons of Formula 3000 under his belt he was given a second chance at the team in place of Adrian Campos.

He would be hoping to make a better impression in 1988 and repay Giancarlo Minardi’s faith in him.


Senna took Pole once more (though he was puzzled at having been a whole 1.4 seconds slower than Mansell’s 1987 time, until he found out he’d had his boost switched to “low” the whole time), and in doing so equalled Stirling Moss and Niki Lauda’s joint record of six consecutive pole positions. But in second place it was, for the first time in 1988, not a McLaren! Berger was second, and Alboreto third with Detroit-hating Prost fourth. Behind these four were the Benettons of Boutsen and Nannini, split by Mansell’s Williams.Piquet, Warwick and Patrese made up the top 10, with Streiff and de Cesaris qualifying well again just behind. Ivan Capelli would miss the race following his qualifying injury, but Stefano Modena was racing – in a neck brace, just to be on the safe side. Tarquini (Coloni), both Zakspeeds and a dejected Satoru Nakajima joined Capelli on the sidelines. Returnee Martini was a creditable 16th – 10 places ahead of team-mate Sala who just squeaked in.

det88-senna-boutsenOn Saturday afternoon, a scheduled Can-Am race had torn up the circuit even more, so there was an air of grim determination rather than anticipation in the paddock on Sunday as the prospect of 62 laps of vibration, heat exhaustion and concentration loomed, with a heavy smack into a concrete wall the reward for the slightest mistake. Mansell’s mood had been lifted a little by his good showing in qualifying, but this was immediately extinguished when his transmission failed on the parade lap. He sprinted for the pits and hopped in the spare, where he would start in last place from the pits. The lights went green and Senna predictably enough hared off into the lead and, with Prost having had a bad start and dropped back  to fifth, he could ease himself into a rhythm. Prost lost no time getting past Boutsen, Alboreto and Berger, working his way up to second by lap 5, and just a lap later Berger’s misery continued as a puncture put him out. A couple of laps later, Alboreto was the innocent victim as Nannini, his brakes failing, nudged him into a spin. He recovered but was well down the order, and grimly set about trying to climb back up the placings.

det88-sennaAll of which left Senna, Prost and Boutsen once again a solid top three with a changing roster behind them. Both Mansell and Patrese fought their way up to fourth in their ailing Williamses before retiring on laps 19 and 27 respectively, which left Andrea de Cesaris fourth in the Rial, hoping to make it to the end this time. Piquet spun into retirement from 9th on lap 23 and didn’t look too choked up about that being his last experience of Detroit. Nannini parked his broken car on lap 15, and his earlier victim Alboreto made it back up to 6th before his engine blew. Phillippe Streiff had another good but ultimately frustrating race, this time managing to overtake the reigning champion for 7th place before his suspension gave way under the assault of the circuit.

det88-de-cesarisWhen the dust settled, the podium was as it had been in Canada – Senna, Prost and Boutsen – as the Brazilian evened things up with three wins apiece between him and Prost, with Senna’s exclusion in Brazil and retirement in Monaco providing the points difference. Behind these three though were four drivers having put in a cracking shift. In fourth was Andrea de Cesaris, finally rewarded for his fine drives of late by taking three points for the Rial team in just their sixth race. Fifth was Jonathan Palmer, who had qualified 17th, hit Larrauri’s Eurobrun, pitted for a new nose and still battled up to fifth. In sixth place was Pierluigi Martini who det88-martinilooked a different driver to his previous showing in 1985 and who was on for fifth place until Palmer came storming past. Nonetheless, he brought Minardi their first-ever point. And in 8th was Alex Caffi, driving a sensible and conservative race to bring the Dallara home for its first finish.

This all looked positive for the smaller teams, which was good news, but there were seventeen teams all looking at McLaren and wondering how on earth they would compete at the next few power circuits when the Honda turbo would really be able to stretch its legs…


Drivers’ Championship

Position Driver Points*
1 Alain Prost 45
2 Ayrton Senna 33
3 Gerhard Berger 18
4 Nelson Piquet 11
= Thierry Boutsen 11
6 Michele Alboreto 9
7 Derek Warwick 8
8 Jonathan Palmer 5
9 Andrea de Cesaris 3
10 Ivan Capelli 2
11 Satoru Nakajima 1
= Alessandro Nannini 1
= Riccardo Patrese 1
= Eddie Cheever 1
= Pierluigi Martini 1

* Top 11 finishes only are counted.

Constructors’ Championship

Position Constructor Points
1 McLaren-Honda 78
2 Ferrari 27
3 Lotus-Honda 12
= Benetton-Ford 12
5 Arrows-Megatron 9
6 Tyrrell-Ford 3
7 Rial-Ford 3
8 March-Judd 2
9 Williams-Judd 1
= Minardi-Ford 1
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