1988 Spanish Grand Prix

220px-Circuito_de_Jerez_(1985-1992).svgCircuito Permanente de Jerez
2 October 1988

A drive through southern Iberia later – 450 miles in baking heat even in October – and the F1 circus arrived at its last European stop, the twisty, dusty Jerez circuit. The fans and journalists alike had their calculators out, because the “best eleven” rule was about to make itself felt. Thirteen races had been held so far, but drivers could only count their best eleven results and would have to discard their worst five. Alain Prost had retired twice, so these races had already been discarded but from now on he would have to discard his “worst” result every time he finished. So if he won in Spain, he would have to discard one of his second-place finishes and only score a net three points. Ironically Senna, who had retired three times and scored a single point once was in a much better position since whatever happened he would discard his three DNFs, his single point from Estoril plus one more. If that sounds complicated and bizarre, that’s because it is, and there were questions asked of the FIA about how fair the rule was. They could hardly move the goalposts now, but there was pressure to change the rule for 1989.

SPA88 HerbertMeanwhile, Benetton had announced their pick to replace Thierry Boutsen in 1989 – British Formula 3000 star Johnny Herbert. The young Briton had been involved in a terrifying shunt at Brands Hatch a few weeks earlier (pictured) and was still recovering in hospital, but the team seemed sure he would be ready to race. The announcement was greeted with some anticipation – Herbert was highly regarded – but it also meant there were probably no top seats for Michele Alboreto – where would the Ferrari refugee go?

Qualifying saw Senna and Prost once again head the grid, with Mansell third and Boutsen fourth on this circuit that suited the normally-aspirated cars. Nannini and Capelli took row 3, then Patrese and Berger, down in 8th with Alboreto 10th, the two Ferraris sandwiching Piquet’s Lotus. Non-qualifiers had a similarly familiar look: both Zakspeeds, Larrauri, Bailey and, on this occasion, Tarquini. Riccardo Patrese had blotted his copybook during qualifying when, on a flying lap, he came across a cruising Julian Bailey on his way back to the pits and had to brake hard to miss him. Petulantly, he got in front of Bailey and slammed on thie brakes, only for Bailey to rear-end him and go flying into the gravel trap. Initially both Patrese and Bailey (and Palmer for good measure) were hauled before the stewards, but a protest from Ken Tyrrell caused them to reconsider. Patrese was fined $10,000, but many of his fellow drivers thought it should have been more.

Sunday was as hot and sunny as the two practice days had been, and as usual the crowd at Jerez was a little thin on the ground. The circuit has great facilities and access but the Spanish just don’t seem to be that interested in Formua One – in contrast to the 120,000 who pack the place for motorcycle Grands Prix. “The atmo cars could go well here” said the pundits, looking at the tight, twisty circuit where the turbos’ massive grunt would be of limited application, but of course the McLarens were at the front of the grid and passing was difficut.

SPA88 StartWhen the lights went green it was Prost who rocketed into the lead, followed by Mansell, who shot past Senna into second and tucked up under Prost’s rear wing. Boutsen knocked his nose-cone askew on the back of Capelli’s March and had to come in for a new one, but otherwise the field got through the first turns fine. At the end of lap 2, Senna had a go at Mansell and for a moment it looked like he would make it stick but he ran wide slightly on the exit and that was all Mansell needed to get back past. It looked like we were set up for a repeat of some of the great Senna/Mansell scraps of recent years – but in fact the Briton began to simply pull away, while Senna had his hands full trying to hang on to third with a terrific scrap over fourth between Patrese, Capelli and Nannini, with Berger keeping a watching brief behind.

SPA99 Senna MansellWith overaking at a premium, there was no change in the order until lap 28 despite the best efforts of Mansell – half a second behind Prost and gaining – and Capelli – all over the back of Patrese. It was a cracking race, and goes to show you can’t only judge by overtaking statistics. At this point Nannini made the first of the expected pit stops, followed by Berger and Piquet, all of whom saw an immediate benefit to the new rubber, but the leading pack stayed out. Prost was clearly planning to stop soon though, as he put his foot down and began pulling out a gap over Mansell, while Capelli finally elbowed past Patrese. Three laps later he once again overtook Senna to go third, and began closing on Mansell. Sadly, it was not to be: on lap 46 he pulled over with smoke pouring from his engine.

A lap later, Mansell came in for his tyre stop and a sticking wheel-nut delayed him, but not enough to drop him to third, such was his lead over Senna by then. Still, his chances of catching Prost were probably done for. Meanwhile, Sandro Nannini was charging through the field – having dropped from 6th to 8th with his early tyre stop, he had almost immediately got back up to 6th and continued on until on lap 48 he disposed of both SPA88 ProstPatrese and Senna to go third. Senna stopped for tyres a few laps later and lost even more places to Patrese, Berger and Gugelmin. Rejoining 7th, he set about salvaging some points – if he managed fourth here, he could sew up the championship with a win in Japan. On lap 55 he got past Gugelmin for sixth. Then Berger for fifth three laps later. But Patrese, running non-stop, was some way ahead and there were by now just fourteen laps to go. Senna’s new rubber was much better than Patrese’s worn tyres on the dusty surface and he remorselessly ate into the Italian’s lead before passing him on lap 65 of 72, to take the fourth place he needed.

Alain Prost took the win that, thanks to the “best eleven” rule was only worth three points while Senna got the full three points for his fourth plac., Mansell took second place and Nannini third, with Patrese fifth and Berger running on fumes in 6th. And now we waited – for with a month’s gap until the Japanese Grand Prix there was plenty to think about. Senna still looked good value for the championship but there was no denying that he’d been a bit ordinary the last two races while Prost had shone.


Drivers’ Championship

Position Driver Points*
1 Alain Prost 84 (90)
2 Ayrton Senna 79
3 Gerhard Berger 38
4 Thierry Boutsen 25
5 Michele Alboreto 24
6 Nelson Piquet 16
7 Derek Warwick 15
8 Ivan Capelli 14
9 Alessandro Nannini 13
10 Nigel Mansell 12
11 Jonathan Palmer 5
= Mauricio Gugelmin 5
= Eddie Cheever 5
14 Andrea de Cesaris 3
15 Riccardo Patrese 4
16 Satoru Nakajima 1
= Pierluigi Martini 1

* Top 11 finishes only are counted.

Constructors’ Championship

Position Constructor Points
1 McLaren-Honda 169
2 Ferrari 62
3 Benetton-Ford 37
4 Arrows-Megatron 20
5 March-Judd 19
6 Lotus-Honda 17
7 Williams-Judd 16
8 Tyrrell-Ford 5
9 Rial-Ford 3
= Minardi-Ford 1
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