24 July 1988
Silly season was in full swing already – a combination of the announcements at Silverstone by Mansell and Boutsen, and the dearth of much speculation to be had on the subject of the current season. Teams and journalists alike were beginning to despair of anyone beating the McLarens, especially here where straight-line speed and rapid acceleration were all.
So as well as Mansell to Ferrari and Boutsen to Williams, the rumour mill had designer Gustav Brunner off to Zakspeed (the rumour prompting a predictable outburst and threat of a lawsuit from Rial team owner Gunter Schmid), BMS Scuderia Italia expanding to two cars led by Alboreto, Martin Brundle returning somewhere, Frank Dernie to solve Ligier’s aerodynamic woes for a very large sum of money, Lotus talking to Porsche about engines, and Mercedes considering a return to the formula. What would actually happen? We would see.
Back to the present, though, as the Pre-Qualifiers were reassessed with de Cesaris’ 3 points lifting Rial out, to be replaced by the luckless Osella team. Ferrari, having been constantly plagued with fuel-consumption issues leading to both cars retiring (Berger from 5th) in Britain, Maranello had finally taken John Barnard’s advice and dialled the RPMs back by 1000 and remapped the engine. This seemed to have worked so far, but only the race would tell. Ligier had been working on a “qualifying special” car with only a small fuel tank, smaller radiators and a higher airbox, while EuroBrun’s plans to sell Larrauri’s seat to Christian Danner for his home race came to naught when the lanky German proved too tall to fit in the car. Prost, meanwhile, had arrived still fuming at his lambasting in the French press for so-called “cowardice” after dropping out of the British Grand Prix.
Qualifying was business as usual, with Senna taking pole by about 0.3s from Prost, with Berger and Alboreto on row two, still about 1.5 seconds off the McLaren pace. In fifth was Piquet, the Honda grunt counting for more here in Hockenheim, with Nannini alongside in 6th. Capelli had another stonking session to line up his March 7th alongside Nakajima in teh second Lotus, with Boutsen and Gugelmin rounding out the top ten. Mansell and Patrese were 11th and 13th in the Williamses, sandwiching Warwick. At the back, it was an equally familiar story: Tarquini failed to pre-qualify the Coloni, and Stefan Johansson and Julian Bailey also disappointed their respective long-established teams. A slight surprise was Minardi, both of whose cars failed to qualify with a mysterious handling problem. Rial continued to entertain, with de Cesaris qualifying a fine 14th despite being hauled before the stewards and torn off a strip for clocking 120mph in the pit lane. Home team Zakspeed managed 22nd (Schneider) and 23td (Ghinzani), meaning there would at least be one German driver on the grid.
There had been intermittent but lively thunderstorms in the area all weekend and while the rain finally stopped on Sunday morning, the track was still wet by the time the grid lined up and most teams opted to start the race on wet tyres. Piquet was one notable exception, gambling on the track dtying out sooner than most expected. When the lights went green and Senna led off, visibility immediately became zero for everyone else. Derek Warwick recalled after the race that he was driving based on the engine note of the car in front. Prost made a bad start and dropped to fourth behind Berger and Nannini, while Piquet’s gamble failed to pay off in a big way, the Lotus aquaplaning off at the Ostkurve and clouting the barriers. He kept it running but only long enough to limp round to the pits and save himself the long walk back.
Prost was now on a charge and passed Nannini on lap 8, by which point a visibly dry line was starting to emerge. Alliot in the Lola had come in for slicks to exploit this, but on lap 9 he moved off-line to allow Senna through and lost it, again at the Ostkurve, and spun into retirement. On lap 12, Prost took Berger to regain second but by then the damage was done: he was 12 seconds behind Senna and unless the Brazilian “rainmaster” had an uncharactaristic wobble, that was where he would stay.
And that was where he did stay, for the top two remained unchanged for the entire race, even when Prost had a spin in traffic late on, for McLaren to record their sixth 1-2 finish in nine races. Behind the McLarens, the story of the race had been Sandro Nannini in the Benetton. Having had a great start to get up to third, then dropped back to fourth, he nonetheless held off Alboreto in the much more powerful Ferrari until lap 38 of 44, when he had to come in for repairs to a broken throttle.bracket. He rejoined in last place, four laps down, and proceeded to drive like a man possessed, carving up through the field and setting the fastest lap of the race. He may have finished 18th but people took note.
And so the top four in the race were the top for from qualifying, in the same order: Senna – Prost – Berger – Alboreto, with Ivan Capelli picking up two well-earned points for the March team and Boutsen salvaging a point for Benetton. Piquet dropped to fifth in the standings below Alboreto, and Benetton overtook Lotus for third in the Constructors’ race.
|12||Andrea de Cesaris||3|
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.