1988 Australian Grand Prix

AdelaideAdelaide Street Circuit
13 November 1988

And so to Australia, which had become an immensely popular end-of-season party venue even if it was a bit of a dead rubber in terms of the championship. In fact, in the intervening two weeks, newly-minted champion Senna had taken a quick holiday in Bali and promptly sprained his wrist playing beach soccer. Rumours that he would bow out and give McLaren test-driver Emanuele Pirro a go in the car proved unfounded and he was in Adelaide with his wrist strapped up and a big grin on his face. Yannick Dalmas was still out, with his “ear infection” having been identified as the rather more serious Legionnaire’s Disease so with Aguri Suzuki back home competing in F3000 again, Pierre-Henri Raphanel would make his F1 debut.

88Raphanel29. Pierre-Henri Raphanel  fr

Born into the midst of Algeria’s bitter war of independence, Raphanel moved as a child to metropolitan France and grew up in the south, turning to karting and won the French national kart title at 20. Progressing through the “Marlboro Cherce son Pilote” scheme, he progressed into Formula Renault in 1983 and Formula 3 in 1984, coming third in his first season before a tight battle with team-mate Yannick Dalmas for the title saw him victorious the following year. Two years with an uncompetitive team in F3000 followed until a 1987 move to Onyx. Results improved but not enough and he watched rival Dalmas take the big step into F1. He would probably not have wished to take his place due to a nasty illness, but there was a certain irony to the situation.

This last race of the 1988 season was a race of many “lasts”. Most notably, of course, it was the last race for the turbocharged engines that had been a part of Formula One for 11 years AUS88 Piquetnow. The mighty Honda V6 turbos would have one last race before the Japanese firm debuted its new atmpspheric engine for 1989 and Lotus switched to Judd power. The team had disappointed Honda this year, though they had successfully retained both their Camel sponsorship and the services of Nelson Piquet for 1989. Moreover, they had raised a few eyebrows by confirming Satoru Nakajima as their second driver for 1989. “Naka” hadn’t embarrassed himself at all, but most assumed he was only there at Honda’s behest. It would be Nigel Mansell’s last race for Williams, Alboreto’s last for Ferrari and Boutsen’s last for Benetton, among others.

Still, there was a motor race to have as well; and qualifying went pretty much the way it had been going all year; Senna took pole despite his sprain and Prost was second. Third was Mansell, benefitting from some new aerodynamics and suspension on the Williams that saw Patrese 6th. Berger was fourth and Piquet fifth, with Warwick and Nannini on row 4 and Capelli 9th  – a sign of the stunning form March had had of late that this was a disappointment rather than a great achievement. Boutsen rounded out the top ten. It was Ligier’s 200th race and they were pleased that both drivers qualified. “Just finish” was Guy Ligier’s instruction – 7th place or even better, a point, would guarantee them travel benefits for 1989 worth millions. The five non-qualifiers were Larini, who failed to pre-qualify the sluggish Coloni, Schneider, Raphanel, Bailey and Tarquini.

AUS88 startWhen the lights went out, Berger blasted straight past Mansell into third, followed by Piquet. At the front, it was Prost who got the start right and took the lead, while back in the pack Alboreto (who had only managed 12th on the grid) collided with Caffi and his last race for Ferrari ended ignominiously a few hundred metres off the line.

Prost began to pull out a lead, stretching to 5.5s by lap 4, and a lap later Berger got past Senna, who was having gearbox problems. He began eating into Prost’s lead and overtook him on lap 14, and started pulling out a lead on the mighty McLarens. The watching viewers were enthralled – would we see another Ferrari win here in Australia? No, we wouldn’t. Because on lap 23, with a three-second lead over Prost, Berger came to lap Modena and Arnoux, and the Frenchman – notorious for not being particularly pliant when lapped – turned in on Berger at the chicane and collected the Ferrari, putting both out. As commentators around the world castigated Arnoux for being past it – he was the oldest driver on the grid at 40 – and not using his mirrors, Prost regained the lead with Senna holding steady n second as his gearbox AUS88 Williamsesproblems continued to worsen, with Piquet maintaining third ahead of the Williams pair of Patrese and Mansell. Piquet seemed to actually be enjoying himself for once, with the car handling just as he liked it and this being the only street circuit he liked. While Patrese was able to stay with Piquet through the infield section, once on the long straight the Lotus’ Honda power told.

On lap 53, Patrese spun and let Mansell through into fourth, and he wasn’t the only one suffering on the demanding track. Nakajima and Gugelmin collided, both Arrows cars had Megatron engine blowouts within a lap of each other, others dropped out with a variety of technical gremlins including Mansell, who spun on lap 66, the lap after Nannini had done the same. Finally, several drivers ran out of fuel, including Andrea de Cesaris who had looked good for a second point of the year, and Stefan Johansson who was running in the 7th place Ligier needed for their travel benefits.

AUS88 PodiumSo the 1988 season ended with the tenth McLaren 1-2 of the year, with Nelson Piquet coming in third to send the Honda V6 Turbo off with a 1-2-3 finish at its last race. Patrese came fourth and best of the atmos, followed by Boutsen and Capelli. Pierluigi Martini in his Minardi was the last man running, though de Cesaris and Johansson were also classified.

In the post-race interviews, Gerhard Berger explained his unexpectedly strong performance – not wanting to have to once again slow up and economise on fuel, the two Ferrari drivers had agreed to dial the boost to maximum and just have fun. Alboreto never got the chance, but Berger had been enjoying himself so much that he hadn’t noticed his brake pedal getting a bit spongy and he cheerfully exonerated Arnoux for any blame in their accident – not that this was much comfort to Guy Ligier.

McLaren finished the year on a stonking 199 points, and both Senna and Prost beat the previous record for points over a single season. With Prost having scored 105 points to Senna’s 94 before the “discard” rule came into play, there was renewed muttering about the points system – the only other driver to have ever won because of the rule was John Surtees, back in 1964; he beat Graham Hill by a single point.

Drivers’ Championship

Position Driver Points*
1 Ayrton Senna 90 (94)
2 Alain Prost 87 (105)
3 Gerhard Berger 41
4 Thierry Boutsen 31
5 Michele Alboreto 24
6 Nelson Piquet 20
7 Derek Warwick 15
= Alessandro Nannini 15
= Ivan Capelli 15
10 Nigel Mansell 12
11 Riccardo Patrese 5
12 Jonathan Palmer 5
= Mauricio Gugelmin 5
= Eddie Cheever 5
15 Andrea de Cesaris 3
16 Satoru Nakajima 1
= Pierluigi Martini 1

* Top 11 finishes only are counted. Total points scored in brackets.

Constructors’ Championship

Position Constructor Points
1 McLaren-Honda 199
2 Ferrari 64
3 Benetton-Ford 45
4 Lotus-Honda 21
5 Arrows-Megatron 20
= March-Judd 20
7 Williams-Judd 19
8 Tyrrell-Ford 5
9 Rial-Ford 3
10 Minardi-Ford 1

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