7 August 1988
In the two weeks between the German and Hungarian races, teams continued searching for that elusive technical edge – though catching the McLarens was looking like ever more of a forlorn hope. Lotus experimented with electronic suspension dampers controlled by the driver; March had a new double-decked front wing to improve handling on this high-downforce circuit and Minardi had a new suspension design themselves, which was only available for Sala for this race. Despite (or perhaps because of) Gunter Schmid’s threatened lawsuit, Zakspeed officially confirmed ex-Ferrari designer Gustav Brunner would design their 1989 car. Other rumours suggested that Michele Alboreto would be replacing Patrese at Williams next year – which would be a little harsh on poor Riccardo f true, because while he’d only scored once so far, so had Mansell, and both were struggling with the car.
Actually, at this circuit where handling and acceleration mattered more than power, the gap between turbo and non-turbo cars was expected to be smaller, and indeed some thought the atmospheric cars might have an advantage. And indeed so it proved: yes, Senna still took his customary pole position – now only Jim Clark and Juan-Manuel Fangio have started more races from pole. But in second place and just 0.1s behind was Nigel Mansell – a doubly impressive appearance because he was not at all well. Having caught chicken-pox from son Leo, he was still suffering the after-effects and was unshaven, haggard-looking and had lost seven pounds in four days (he’d had to have a new hole drilled in his casual belt). In third was Boutsen, then in fourth was a stunning Capelli. Behind him was Nannini in the second Benetton alongside Patrese’s Williams, and you had to look down as far as seventh to find Prost in the second turbo car, having had problems finding a traffic-free lap on Saturday after rain made Friday’s session moot. Gugelmin was 8th, Berger a dispirited 9th in the Ferrari (Alboreto was an even more dejected 15th) and in 10th place a conversely delighted Alex Caffi in his Dallara. Nelson Piquet was way back in 13th place and team-mate Nakajima (no fan of the Hungaroring) was 19th. Clearly the new suspension wasn’t doing the trick for Lotus.
It was Larini’s turn to fail to pre-qualify this time, and indeed Tarquini hauled his Coloni onto the grid in 22nd, ahead of Streiff’s AGS and both Ligiers (who at least both qualified this time out). Larrauri, Bailey and (once again) both Zakspeeds also missed the cut.The watching press and fans were looking forward to the race tomorrow as it was looking more likely here than anywhere else that the almighty McLarens might come a cropper.
Race day dawned clear and hot – 27 degrees, which wasn’t going to be much fun for poor Nigel Mansell, who’d looked shattered after qualifying, never mind a full 76-lap race. Nonetheless, he made a scorching start from the front row and was very close to getting into the first corner ahead of Senna, but the extra turbo power told and the Brazilian kept the lead, while Patrese also got a flier and tucked in behind Mansell in third. Capelli had also had a good start and had even had a look at second before being muscled out of the way by the two Williams drivers. Prost, by contrast, got another bad start and dropped down to ninth.
Passing in Hungary is very difficult, with only one real straight and Senna began to set a slow pace, going just as fast as he needed to to keep ahead of Mansell and co, giving his engine a little squirt of turbo boost coming out of the last corner, enough to keep the Judd-engined Williams behind him. The unfortunate Capelli disappeared with an engine problem on lap 2, so Senna was leading a snake comprised of Mansell, Patrese, Boutsen, Nannini and Berger, while Prost had got back up to 7th and was following them. On lap 12, Mansell, so close to Senna he was almost touching, lost downforce and had a spin down to fourth, so Patrese now took up the chase to much the same effect.
It wasn’t to be Williams’s day though – Patrese’s engine developed a misfire and he dropped back behind Boutsen, then back to sixth. Meanwhile Prost was making his methodical, clinical way to the front; past Berger, then Nannini (whose Ford engine was also starting to play up), he was past Mansell for third on lap 32. Nigel came in five laps later for new tyres; his spin had flat-spotted them and he was finally fed up of the resultant vibration.
On lap 47, Prost overtook Boutsen to go second and he began rapidly gaining on Senna, who was still banking on the twisty circuit to maintain his lead. He was soon up behind his team-mate and on lap 49, as Senna went to lap Yannick Dalmas’ Lola and Gabriele Tarquini’s Coloni at Turn One, Prost made a spectacular move to overtake all three of them – but he carried a bit too much speed into the corner and came out off his line, and Senna was soon back past. Back to the drawing-board, Alain. He set the fastest lap, just half a second off Piquet’s 1986 time, but soon had to drop back with bad vibrations caused by a loose wheel nut and found himself under attack by Boutsen. Around this time, Mansell came in for a second set of tyres, then pulled back in on lap 60 to retire, absolutely exhausted.
With the end in sight, Prost seemed to find a second wind and sped up again, braving the vibrations to try and chase Senna down, but it was not to be. Senna took the win which put him equal on points with Prost and ahead on six wins to four. Boutsen trailed in third, a broken exhaust pipe late on having put paid to his chances of catching Prost, with Berger fourth, Gugelmin taking a fine fifth place – his second points finish in three races – and Patrese taking sixth. Next in were the Loti of Nakajima and Piquet, two laps behind Gugelmin and Patrese and three adrift of the top four; the reigning champion had had a coming-together early on with
Martini’s Minardi and never really recovered.
With six races to go, Senna had the advantage now, but there was still time for both men to win. McLaren, meanwhile, could sew up the Constructors’ Championship at the next race: they led Ferrari by 88 points, with 90 still on offer.
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* Top 11 finishes only are counted.