Autodromo do Estoril
25 September 1988
Ferrari’s fairytale win in Italy seemed to have re-invigorated the Formula One paddock, and there seemed a bit more of a spring in everyone’s step in Estoril – or perhaps it was the relaxed seaside atmosphere, sunshine, good food and wine and local enthusiasm. The Portuguese fans, lacking a home hero, idolised the Brazilians and in 1988 that meant Senna.
Nigel Mansell was back with a regrown moustache and a sore neck but otherwise OK, though after a layoff like that he would be concerned about fitness levels over 71 laps of a bumpy, dusty circuit in the heat.
Prost, running a new, stiffer chassis, had a great qualifying run on Saturday morning to beat Berger’s 1987 time, and proceeded to ooze calm confidence by changing into jeans and t-shirt and hanging around the garage while Senna waited in vain for a clear lap. He never did find one, and had to settle for second, 0.458 seconds behind Prost. In third was Ivan Capelli, another stonking qualifying session for the young Italian and his expertly-designed car. Not only that, but his team-mate Gugelmin was fifth, the two aqua blue cars sandwiching Berger’s Ferrari. Mansell lined up sixth, ahead of Alboreto, Piquet and Nannini, with Warwick 10th, the Arrows struggling for grip and suffering from the Megatron engine’s horrible turb0-lag. Oscar Larrauri once again failed to pre-qualify, with team-mate Modena, both Zakspeeds and Julian Bailey joining him in non-participation on Sunday.
The teams lined up on Sunday and as they all streamed away on the green light, Andrea de Cesaris stalled his Rial and the start was cancelled and re-taken. On the second start, it was Warwick’s turn to stall, and this time he was hit by that man again, de Cesaris. Avoiding the accident, Sala wiped a wheel off his Minardi on Nakajima’s Lotus and once again the race was stopped and the cars reassembled for another start with Sala in the spare Minardi and de Cesaris’ Rial patched up. Cars were allowed to refuel but two laps were knocked off the race distance, which would help those like the Ferraris who were always marginal on fuel consumption.
When the grid finally got away properly on the third attempt, Prost and Senna ran tightly together with the Frenchman apparently trying to squeeze his team-mate over onto the grass. It was Senna who took the lead though and Prost tucked in behind, closely followed by Capelli, Berger and Mansell. As they braked down into turn 1, Prost dove out from behind Senna and took the inside line into the corner – when suddenly Senna lurched across to the right, nearly pushing Prost straight into the pit wall. But the double champion held his nerve and came out of the corner ahead, with Senna chasing.
In fact, soon Senna seemed to be dropping back and Prost began to rapidly build a lead while his teammate was having trouble fending off Ivan Capelli. Senna’s fuel gauge was (falsely, as it transpired) showing high consumption, which is why he had backed off, but that is not to take anything away from Capelli or March, for it was he and not Berger who was taking advantage. For lap after lap the blue March harried the white and red McLaren until on lap 22 he outbraked Senna and disappeared off into the distance, apparently intent on catching Prost! Now it was Berger’s turn and he too swiftly disposed of Senna but couldn’t make any impression on an inspired Capelli, while Senna now had Mansell on his tail, as he had so often before.
On lap 36, Berger went to make an adjustment, hit the wrong button on the bumpy circuit and set off the fire extinguisher in his cockpit! With a frozen right leg, his foot slipped off the brake pedal and off he went. So Senna regained third with Mansell still trying to get by. On lap 55, Mansell was still tight up with Senna when they both came to lap Jonathan Palmer in a badly overheating Tyrrell. The Williams driver misjudged slightly and clipped the back of Senna’s McLaren, sending himself off and out of the race, and promoting Alboreto to fourth. Senna’s woes continued as first Alboreto, then Boutsen and Warwick all piled past over the next few laps to drop him to sixth.
If Senna’s fuel gauge was showing a falsely low reading, Alboreto’s was wrong in the other direction and as he came round on the last lap, third place all but assured, his engine made a clonking noise and ground to a halt, out of fuel. He managed to coast it across the line, but not before Thierry Boutsen and Derek Warwick had cruised past to collect third and fourth places thank you very much.
Prost won, regaining top spot in the standings, but the real story was Capelli, who took a fine, totally merited and very popular second place with Boutsen, Warwick, Alboreto and Senna taking the rest of the points.
With just a week to go until the next race in Spain, not only was the title race hotting up but the cracks were starting to show in Prost and Senna’s relationship which until now had been one of comradely rivalry. A frank but calm exchange of views followed after the race about the first lap incidents, but it would remain to be seen how the last three races played out.
|14||Andrea de Cesaris||3|
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.