Ciruit de Spa-Francorchamps
28 August 1988
A week after the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Formula One world was sent into mourning by the death of Enzo Ferrari. “Il Commendatore” was 90 years old and had been the guiding force behind the team that bore his name from the 1930s onward, even when Fiat took over ownership of the team in the 1970s and Luca di Montezemolo became head of the F1 team. The last driver personally selected by Ferrari was Nigel Mansell, who was still suffering the after-effects of his bout of chicken pox, compounded by his exhausting efforts in Hungary and now a secondary infection, and decided to miss the race. Substituting for Mansell was Martin Brundle, who got the call from Frank Williams while driving down the M11 on the Wednesday of race weekend.
5. Martin Brundle
The Norfolk-born driver had spent four years in formula one going nowhere fast in underfunded Tyrrell and Zakspeed cars, while watching his old F3000 sparring partner Ayrton Senna become a megastar. Unable to secure a decent drive for 1988 he had opted to race with Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguar Sportscar team, but was also doing some testing for Williams to keep his eye in.
Spa is always a popular race – the drivers love it for its exhilarating, challenging nature, spectators love the atmosphere and scenery and everyone loves the Belgian food and beer. The race usually falls on the weekend of the August Bank Holiday in the UK, meaning the Mansell Army are usually out in force. This year, they would have to make do with cheering on Brundle, Warwick, Palmer and Bailey. Meanwhile, the rumours and announcements about 1989 continued to swirl – mostly involving backroom staff rather than drivers at the moment: Ligier’s Michel Tetu and Lotus’ Gerard Ducarouge both announced they would be leaving their teams at the end of the season, while the French team were also concerned by rumours that Tetu’s replacement Frank Dernie would be heading to Lotus instead. Christian Vanderpleyn was moving from AGS to draw the 1989 Coloni, while Zakspeed were rumoured to have lined up an engine deal with Yamaha for the next season, having elected not to build their own normally-aspirated engine.
This would be the Benetton team’s 100th Grand Prix start (if you count Toleman’s starts as well) and Ford’s 300th and with Sandro Nannini signing on for 1989 and 1990, the team would be hoping to do better than Tyrrell had in their landmark 250th race last time out. Friday qualifying saw Senna take provisional pole by 0.4s from Prost, and Saturday’s session was wet so that was how it stayed. with once again Berger and Alboreto on row 2. Patrese was top of the non-turbos in 5th, with his future team-mate Boutsen alongside. Nannini started 7th, then Nakajima in 8th outqualifying his illustrious (but decidedly unimpressive) teammate Piquet in 9th. Then came the Arrows cars of Warwick and Cheever followed by Brundle (who was fastest in Saturday’s wet session). At the other end, Oscar Larrauri failed to pre-qualify (to the relief of everyone else as he had something of a reputation as a mobile chicane), and Julian Bailey, Stefano Modena and both Minardis would join him in sitting out the race.
Throughout the season, Ayrton Senna had been copying Alain Prost’s car setup, realising that the Frenchman had a better knack at setting up a car than he did, and moreover that Prost’s setup suited his own driving style just fine. Prost, meanwhile, was looking for any advantage as the title race heated up, so decided to change his settings at the last minute ready for the race.Sunday was dry – though sudden changes in weather were par for the course among the Ardennes hills. When the lights went green, Prost got a fantastic start while Senna had just a touch of wheelspin and it was the Professor who got into the La Source hairpin first and led the pack down through Eau Rouge but Senna was clearly quicker through the chicane, pulled out from behind Prost as they blasted up Kemmel and outbraked him into Les Combes to re-take the lead. Now Senna started immediately pulling out a gap, while Prost was trying to fend off Berger’s Ferrari sniffing around after second place. However, the Austrian’s Ferrari was in on lap 3 to have an electrical problem looked at, so Alboreto was up to third, with Boutsen all over his gearbox after getting a great start from sixth. Behind them was a three-car scrap over 5th with Nakajima and Piquet sandwiching Nannini and the Japanese driver looking confident and happy. Patrese was having tyre problems and dropped out on lap 10, a couple of laps before Berger – who had set the fastest lap of the race while trying to catch up from his stop, also gave up on lap 12.
Nannini got past Nakajima shortly afterwards and on lap 17, Nelson Piquet finally got past his upstart team-mate to drop the Japanese driver to sixth, but he was not out of the fight yet and the three continued to run closely together – until at half distance (lap 22) his race was over with engine problems. On lap 36, Ferrari completed a miserable weekend to cap their tragic week when Alboreto’s engine blew when he was running in third place, promoting Piquet. The champion was having problems with his brake balance and in compensating he was instead wearing his tyres unevenly – sliding wide, he gathered crass in his sidepods which caused his engine to start overheating, so he had to come in to get it cleared.
Behind, Nannini was driving his guts out, pursued by the Warwick and Cheever’s Arrows, Patrese’s Williams and the two Marches of Capelli and Gugelmin, and it was Ivan who was turning heads, carving up through the places like Senna lapping backmarkers. He got past Patrese, then the two Arrows cars – turbo cars, lest we forget – and was up to sixth.
Senna never looked like losing the lead, and took his seventh win of the season with Prost second to secure McLaren the constructors’ title in style and make Prost’s chances of taking the title that much harder. In fact, in a post-race interview he essentially conceded the title to Senna. Thierry Boutsen took a fine third place in his home race, which he cheerfully agreed was as good as a win in his book. Nannini was fourth, Capelli fifth, a fine reward for his great drive, and Piquet salvaged a point from another disappointing weekend for Lotus. Following him were Warwick and Cheever, just missing out on the points, and Brundle finished 9th.
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* Top 11 finishes only are counted.