Autodromo Nazionale di Monza
11 September 1988
The teams arrived at one of the most historic circuits on the calendar with the recent death of Enzo Ferrari still at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The Tifosi were out in force as usual but given the scarlet cars’ recent form and McLaren’s sheer dominance, especially at power circuits like this one, there wasn’t a lot of optimism around. Nigel Mansell was still feeling too ill to race, and with Martin Brundle back on duty for Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguar sportscars, Jean-Louis Schlesser was given the seat for the weekend.
5. Jean-Louis Schlesser
The French driver had last been seen in F1 in 1983, when he drove for the RAM team at the non-championship “Race of Champions”, and then failed to qualify for the French GP before his sponsorship cheque bounced. Like Brundle, he had since been racing in sportscars and touring cars for Tom Walkinshaw Racing, and won the 1985 French Touring Car Championship. For 1988 he had left TWR and joined the Swiss Sauber outfit, and co-driving with Jochen Mass, Stefan Johansson and Mauro Baldi was racing Martin Brundle for the World Sportscars title.
As a mark of respect for Il Commendatore, the Ferraris were allowed to be the first cars out on Friday morning, but it didn’t take long for McLaren to reassert control. By the end of Saturday’s sessions, Senna and Prost were once more in their accustomed first and second grid slots, despite the latter suffering from a slight misfire. On row 2 once more were the two Ferraris of Berger and Alboreto, 0.68 seconds and 1.01 seconds behind respectively. So far so predictable. What was more of a surprise was the two cream and red Arrows cars on row three – Heini Mader had finally, after nearly two years of frustration, figured out the problem with the pop-off valves popping off too early and as a result the engine could develop its full power. Piquet was 7th, Boutsen top atmo runner in 8th, with Nannini and Patrese rounding out the top ten. The Lotus team were particularly aggrieved to realise, right at the end of the session, that they had set up both cars for Imola instead of Monza by mistake – but it didn’t seem to have made much of a difference from normal. Oscar Larrauri was again the slowest of all, failing to pre-qualify, and Stefano Modena, Gabriele Tarquini, Stefan Johansson and Jonathan Palmer would also be missing the race, meaning that Julian Bailey actually qualified – in 26th – for a change.
When the lights went green on Sunday afternoon, it was Prost who got away best and edged ahead of Senna, but as he changed down for the first chicane his engine misfire made itself known again and the Brazilian went through Rettifilio first with Prost second followed by Berger, Alboreto, Cheever, Boutsen, Patrese and Piquet all following (Warwick had had a dreadful start and dropped back out of the top ten). With Senna rapidly pulling away and his engine not up to its best, Prost realised quickly that his championship chances were almost gone. Turning his boost up to full, he gave chase, either hoping to catch and pass Senna or at least to make his team-mate use too much fuel trying to maintain the gap and run out before the end. Berger initially stayed with Prost, but eventually decided to back off and save his own fuel.
As the high-speed circuit took its usual toll of engines, with the smaller teams particularly affected, Prost managed to keep his running well despite the misfire and by lap 30 he was just 2 seconds behind Senna when his engine suddenly took a turn for the worse and he slowed dramatically, allowing Berger and Alboreto past before finally giving up and retiring on lap 35 – McLaren’s first mechanical retirement all year. So Senna was left in the lead but Berger was now charging again, as was Alboreto who had had gearshift problems early on but after dropping back to allow them to cool off a little now had the bit between his teeth at his home race. In the space of fifteen laps, Berger brought the gap down from 26 seconds to 5 and Senna was clearly under pressure.
With just three laps to go and the watching pundits wondering just how much fuel the Brazilian had expended keeping ahead of Prost, the McLaren was in traffic when disaster struck. He was lapping Jean-Louis Schlesser at the Rettifilio chicane when the substitute Williams driver locked his brakes and went straight on. However, experienced sportscar driver Schlesser got his car back under control, and rejoined the circuit, just in time to hit the McLaren’s right-rear suspension and put Senna out. The Tifosi as well as the Italian race commentators went berserk as Berger and Alboreto swept through to take the top two places and the Italian driver was on the kind of charge we hadn’t seen from him in some time, eating into Berger’s lead and setting the fastest lap to close up to just half a second behind. An Italian win in a Ferrari wasn’t to be but nobody cared – Ferrari had a 1-2 result at Monza, and were the first team to win a race other than McLaren in 1988.
The third place just as refreshing in many ways – Eddie Cheever visiting the podium for the first time since his Renault days in 1983, closely followed by teammate Derek Warwick; proof that Arrows had finally sorted out their engine problems and would be looking to finish the season on a high note. Ivan Capelli and Thierry Boutsen picked up 5th and 6th places respectively, with Patrese and Gugelmin also finising on the same lap as Berger.
Conversation post-race turned on whether Senna had been at fault for the accident for assuming Schlesser was off the track permanently, or Schlesser for turning in on Senna – BBC commentator James Hunt blamed Schlesser in his usual forthright fashion, while Mauricio Gugelmin who had been following Senna on the track and was his former room-mate tended to the opinion that it was just one of those racing accidents. And had Prost’s tactic of getting Senna to burn fuel worked? Peter Warr, Senna’s old Lotus boss, thought so. At any rate, while Senna was still favourite, Prost’s chances were still very much alive with four races to go.
|14||Andrea de Cesaris||3|
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.