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#448 1987 Portuguese Grand Prix

2023-01-09 23:00

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#1987, Fulvio Conti,

#448 1987 Portuguese Grand Prix

Terrifying heat, given the season, also welcomed the Formula 1 circus to Portugal: 35 °C ambient temperature, who knows how much on the asphalt of the

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Terrifying heat, given the season, also welcomed the Formula 1 circus to Portugal: 35 °C ambient temperature, who knows how much on the asphalt of the track. And the meteorological climate only goes hand in hand with the competitive one: on Sunday 20 September 1987, in the 12th round of the World Championship it will be even hotter, in every sense. There is the title up for grabs, or at least a good part of it, since another victory by Nelson Piquet could mortify the ambitions of his rivals, even if on a purely mathematical level we still have to wait for the next races to name the driver who will wear the rainbow helmet. It is no coincidence, however, that the scorching temperatures will be the corollary to a caliente challenge. of the South American type. Indeed, it is to be expected that Nelson Piquet and his compatriot Ayrton Senna will be contending for victory. Not forgetting, however, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost, who have certainly not set aside all their ambitions. Given what happened at Monza, however, it is safe to assume that it will be the two Brazilians who will contend for success, for many reasons. Nelson Piquet is in great form, Ayrton Senna has always been competitive. Piquet and Senna are currently the two stars of what someone has already referred to with some wit as the Brazilian connection. One wonders how it is that so many talents emerge from a country in which motor racing is technologically imported (the market is dominated by Fiat. Ford and Volkswagen). Yet this is no accidental phenomenon. Two world titles with Emerson Fittipaldi, two and maybe three at the end of the year with Nelson Piquet, an Ayrton Senna who may become the absolute protagonist of the coming years. Without forgetting that Raul Boesel has just won the endurance world championship with Jaguar, and that Mauricio Gugelmin and Roberto Moreno (all Brazilians) are at the top of Formula 3000, where only the very talented Stefano Modena manages to keep them behind. There is a secret in these astounding results. 

 

The way was paved by Emerson Fittipaldi in the early 1970s. The pockmarked driver, endowed with great natural class, came to Europe to learn and leaned on the British school, characterised by an unrivalled tradition. First in Formula 3 in England, then the leap into the major categories, after learning how to fight in groups and all the tricks of the trade. Since then, the example has been followed by all. From wealthy families. Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Roberto Moreno and Mauricio Gugelmin took turns to come to the island that gave birth to Stirling Moss. Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and many others. The lessons were put to good use. And now Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna are in a position to contend for the World Championship, leaving behind a line-up as large as Italy (ten drivers in Formula 1) and the whole foreign legion of the circus. Only Nigel Mansell can really challenge them at this point. And it must be said that the Englishman might have an ace up his sleeve: the great rivalry between the two challengers. Paulista Senna, Carioca at least by adoption Piquet (who is from Brasilia), the two Brazilians will give life to a no-holds-barred derby, from which Nigel Mansell himself could benefit. The four musketeers of Formula 1 seem to be down to three. From the group of title pretenders who have dominated the season so far, sharing all the victories, only Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell still seem to have the same competitiveness as at the start of the championship. Alain Prost, on the other hand, has pulled away, forced in the last few races into a series of retirements that are mortifying for someone like him, used to fighting for first place. And even when he managed to place, as in Hungary (third) and Austria (sixth), his McLaren was never up to the situation, tortured by electronic and engine problems. 

 

"Hope is the last to die, but I will not give up until mathematics condemns me. I know very well that I have practically no chance of making up the disadvantage I have accumulated against my rivals. But what worries me most, honestly, is the fact that Williams, Lotus, and now Benetton and Ferrari have become faster than my car. It's a question of technology and at this point a driver can do nothing more, he can only try to give his best. As I have always done, after all. Unfortunately this is not a sport where you improvise, real miracles are not possible. Last year I won the title at the last race, in a surprising way, but I was there fighting with the others. Now I'm too far away".

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But is there a chance that McLaren and Tag-Porsche can solve the problems in the last five races remaining? 

 

"We have been working a lot, sparing no effort. We even stayed at Monza after the Italian Grand Prix to test, to try new electronic engine mappings. Did we manage to do anything? I will tell you tomorrow, but in truth I am not very optimistic. In Formula 1, when you fall behind it is difficult to catch up in a short time". 

 

However, Alain Prost is in the best position to assess the title candidates' chances. What is his opinion? 

 

"For Piquet the road is paved. A man of his experience at the wheel of a car like the Williams with active suspension could only lose if plagued by bad luck. Nelson has shown in every way that he is the number one candidate". 

 

Between Senna and Mansell who sees better? 

 

"Potentially they are on a par. The Brazilian has an advantage in terms of points, six, but his car is less constant as a level, even if Ayrton was the only one to score nine top six finishes together with Piquet. I would say, however, that Senna has matured a lot, that he knows how to make the most of his opportunities, while Mansell is still a bit immature, determined, very fast, but not yet able to resign himself to a second place, for example. Let's not forget, however, that the Englishman is the driver who has won more than anyone so far, scoring four successes out of eleven races run. A good fight in short, with two mastiffs launched in the hunt for the fox". 

 

This, then, is the dominant motif of the Grand Prix of Portugal, which kicks off on Friday 18 September 1987 with the first qualifying round, pending the race. For the rest it's just details. Ferrari doesn't have much news, but they are still hoping. It seems, however, that there are different turbines. In the meantime, Mannello's team brings an electronic control unit that can finally make the Japanese envious, but will it be enough? For the rest, there is talk of the drivers' market and the Italians should be protagonists. Within a few hours Riccardo Patrese's move to Williams should be made official. Moreover, Alessandro Nannini has a good chance of settling at Benetton in place of Teo Fabi. The latter, in fact, is still tempted by the American adventure that made him famous. He has had a couple of offers from Formula Indy: one even from Porsche, which will debut in US races at the end of the season, and another from Mario Andretti's team. On Friday 18 September 1987, the four musketeers nip in the bud an attempted revolt by Cardinal Richelieu's men. If the Formula One World Championship were a Dumas novel, this would certainly be the title of the chapter devoted to the first day of qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix. With Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the role of the skilful swordsmen and Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto in that of the Machiavellian cardinal's followers (Marco Piccinini, the Maranello team's sporting director). There Ferrari, in fact, tries to take everyone by surprise by setting the best time in practice this morning with the Austrian driver. But when it comes to getting serious, when the official timekeepers come into action, the Maranello single-seaters have to give way to the two Williams, the Brazilian's Lotus and Alain Prost's McLaren, the cars that have dominated the season so far. The fastest is once again Nigel Mansell, author of a lap closed in 1'17'961, at an average of 200.895 km/h, far from Senna's circuit record (1'16"673), but the track is still too dusty to allow for records, only postponed to the Saturday session. Nigel Mansell does not use the Williams with active suspension, however, demonstrating for the umpteenth time that he is unbeatable on certain tracks:

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"It's going very well, but I had some problems with a leak in the hydraulic circuit fluid and then I still don't have a perfect feeling with this solution, which is nevertheless very good and successful, so much so that I will probably use it in the second round and tomorrow in the race".

 

So much so that Nelson Piquet, in order to keep up with him, runs into two spins. Behind the two Williams, a little slowed down by some mishaps, overheating of the supercharger gases and low turbine pressure, respectively, come Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, who appeared in any case concentrated and competitive. So the Ferraris have no choice but to occupy fifth and sixth position, leading the chasing pack. Gerhard Berger, however, set a time, 1'18"448, only 0.3 seconds faster than Nelson Piquet, confirming the progress of the Maranello team's cars. A step forward that apparently concerns above all the engine, since in the top speed range the Austrian was clearly the best with 317.460 km7h on the finish line and 329.372 km/h at the highest point. Michele Alboreto was a little slower, but his performance was hampered by a problem with the turbo restrictor valve, as he recorded a better time in free practice than in official practice. Regarding this inconvenience, it must be stressed how the complex and sophisticated data collection system (which is provided in telemetry, in real time, at all times) mounted by Ferrari in collaboration with Magneti Marelli, substantially changes every kind of evaluation compared to the past. It used to be that you had to wait for the cars to return to the pits, dismantle the parts under accusation and check their operation. Now all the important functions are checked instant by instant. That's why you only have to look at the faces of the Maranello technicians intent on examining the graphs on video or on the printers that are constantly spewing out strips of paper, to understand when something is not working properly. If they turn pale, as happened in the case of Michele Alboreto, you know a priori what is happening or what could happen. However, Ferrari has done well to take the lead in this electronic field because it is certainly one of the ways forward. Perhaps this is also why, on Saturday 19 September 1987, its rivals could not stop it. After a two-year, five-month fast, Ferrari is back in pole position. In the Grand Prix of Portugal, Gerhard Berger's red #28 car starts ahead of everyone. 

 

It had not happened since 6 April 1985, in Brazil: then Michele Alboreto had put Keke Rosberg in the Williams behind him. In Portugal, the Austrian took Nigel Mansell's place, relegating him to second place on the grid. A feat, that of Ferrari, which signifies further progress, a confirmation of the steps forward made in recent races. A result that arouses enthusiasm in the environment, not only in the Maranello team, but in all the teams. Because a Ferrari at the top is good for everyone, it is especially good for Formula 1, which was falling asleep in the face of the prolonged domination first of McLaren and now of Williams. Gerhard Berger's pole position, the first of his career in 48 disputed races, accrues in a somewhat expeditious manner, let's even say helped by luck. But the driver is nonetheless very good at seizing the right moment and driving to the limit, taking many risks. And the car proves to be competitive. However, it must be acknowledged that, for once, the others were not able to express themselves to the full. In fact, it was a small thunderstorm that affected the last day of practice. Just a few drops, but just enough to interrupt the challenge in search of times. Gerhard Berger immediately took to the track and pushed hard with the first set of tyres, but without managing to do better than Nigel Mansell had done on Friday. When engineer Nardon notices that black clouds are gathering over the circuit, he quickly pits the Austrian, the tyres are changed and Gerhard Berger restarts. The Austrian makes two very quick passes, 324 km/h on the finish line, 332 km/h at the end of the straight and that's it: 1'17"620 on the lap, more than 0.3 seconds less than the Englishman of the Williams. There is barely time to check on the Longines screens the new pole position holder and the others go wild. But after a few moments the rain stops everyone, half an hour from the end of qualifying. The track gets wet and dries in quick succession in front of the pits, but behind, at the far end, it continues to rain. 

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And nobody can attack the Ferrari any more. Nigel Mansell falls into the trap. The Briton is also slowed down by a problem with a box containing the active suspension control system in the cockpit of the Williams, which comes loose. Nelson Piquet is stuck in the pits because he has changed the engine of his car, Ayrton Senna is stuck in the circuit because of a fire start on his Lotus. Gerhard Berger wants to get out again but the mechanics push him into the garage because it has started raining and he has not noticed. When they then show him the time monitor, the Austrian driver explodes, jumps out of the car flailing and starts walking up and down the pit lane; he can't believe it, he even talks to himself: he has conquered his first pole position. When he gets out of the car, the Austrian is so confused that he wants to leave, to make a fuss with the journalists, to squeeze in all the cameras in front of him; for this reason, Marco Piccinini lifts him by weight and throws him back into the car. Also among the disappointed was Michele Alboreto, who right at the decisive moment was blocked by a gearbox failure and was forced to change the single-seater, settling for a disappointing sixth place, despite an improvement of about 1.5 seconds compared to Friday. On the other hand, Riccardo Patrese was excellent, managing to climb to seventh place. Starting on pole position at this track is quite an advantage, as overtaking is difficult. But for the first time in a long time there are many drivers capable of winning. The two Williams drivers, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost's McLaren in clear recovery and Ayrton Senna's Lotus, all almost on a par in terms of competitiveness. In addition to the tyres, attention will have to be paid to the gearbox (Ferrari is experiencing problems in three cars, with the gears not engaging perfectly) and the brakes, which are very important given the characteristics of the track. In short, the question of reliability remains, so everyone has been cautious in their predictions. Gerhard Berger, pale, sweaty, but happy, says at the end of practice:

 

"It's a great feeling. I had chased pole position for two years with Benetton, but had never managed it. A couple of times I was in the lead on Friday, but the next day I was inexorably overtaken. This time it went well. The secret? There is no secret: the car was competitive and I took maximum risks, as always. It's still exciting and it's time to do it more often".

 

Around the drivers, the men of the Maranello team, excited, finally in the grip of that euphoria that accompanies the best days, there is celebration. But the joy is contained, and the predictions cautious for the race. Piero Lardi Ferrari, son of the Modenese manufacturer, says: 

 

"We have worked a lot. The engine has improved, in the last races, the aerodynamics, the chassis; in the race there will be no team orders, the drivers will be free to attack. They will have to try to win, but let's not have too many illusions, it will be tough".

 

Marco Piccinini, in his classic manner, says: 

 

"Another small sign of the turnaround we have been pursuing since the beginning of the season".

 

And Michele Alboreto, clearly outdone by his teammate, is the first to congratulate Gerhard Berger: 

 

"A great tour, Gerhard. Well done. I am still happy. The team needed this result. A sweetener. If I had known earlier that Berger would go on pole, I would have also signed up for my sixth place. However, I have to admit that Berger was very strong. If I had had the chance to lap again, maybe I would have dropped below 1'18"0, but he was unassailable". 

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And the race? 

 

"For me it will be particularly difficult, because overtaking is problematic here. Nor will I be able to try to catch up at the start. The characteristics of the track don't allow risky starts. At the first corner I will already have several seconds of disadvantage. However, the car is now fast even in the slow corners. We have worked well and the new data reception system with the radio-laser transmissions has also given us a big hand".

 

Alboreto also admits that he may have made a mistake in not changing the tyres, before having a problem with the gearbox (the fourth gear didn't go in properly) and being forced to drive the reserve car while it was already starting to rain. The gearbox problem, particularly stressed at Estorti, is one of the biggest doubts for Ferrari. Berger himself, who is also the protagonist of a spin, before setting the best time, had problems with the third gear that did not engage properly. In any case, at the end of practice, Bernie Ecclestone brought champagne to the Ferrari mechanics so that they could toast this pole position. No one had thought of such a festive event and so the galleys were empty of all manner of fizzy spirits to be used in times of celebration:

 

"What do you want champagne for me, with the Brabham I have? So here's to this Ferrari, here's to the commendatory from Maranello who is bringing interest back to the championship".

 

The mechanics, the old ones hardened by so much bitterness and so much criticism, and the young ones who are savouring the first Grands Prix of a career that will be very long for them, all indulge together for once in jumps of joy, hugs and smiles. To the harsh day-to-day reality of spanners and dirty hands, the Spaniard Villadelprat, John Barnard's order-holder, who is still absent from the race fields, reminds them:

 

"That's enough, everybody get to work".

 

Ferrari's exploits should not overshadow the dominant motifs of the race. Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna have very competitive cars. All four musketeers make it clear that they will have no worries, that they will seek a victory necessary to win the title. The Englishman from Williams declares: 

 

"A Ferrari success would also suit me, as long as I finish at least second. But rest assured, I won't miss any chance to come first".

 

Alain Prost makes it clear that he has regained his competitiveness and Ayrton Senna is one who has always gone strong on this circuit. Not forgetting Nelson Piquet, who as a sly man does not talk much, but certainly counts on getting everyone to agree. But it is not only the will to win that occupies Nigel Mansell's thoughts during the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend. Already for months, in fact, following the physical pains experienced in the first outings of the season, some had insinuated that these difficulties encountered by the Briton were not caused exclusively by poor exercise, but even by the use of illicit substances. To put it simply, after physical problems in Detroit, Le Castellet and more recently in Budapest where he could hardly get out of the cockpit, Nigel Mansell was accused by the British press of using drugs. Under investigation for supplying Nigel Mansell with such substances is Dr Grajales Roblès, who in his and the British driver's defence says:

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"Mansell is not the only driver to have this kind of problem. It is certainly not the use of drugs, but his poor physical preparation. Nigel does not exercise regularly, he does not follow a strict diet, so his resistance to the stress involved in driving a Formula One car is insufficient. Unfortunately, Nigel thinks more about going to the golf course than going to the gym and taking care of his impressive physique. His case is not unique, also Ayrton Senna, at the beginning of his career, was subject to fainting at the end of some races".

 

On Sunday, 20 September 1987, there was a real risk at the first start of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Not only because of the drivers who set off in a daring manner on a very narrow track. But also due to recklessness, unpreparedness and lack of reflexes on the part of the race director, Amédée Pavesi, a technician who has a great deal of experience, but perhaps lost his head in Portugal. A series of caroms occur after the green light, at the first corner and even further on. The track is practically blocked by the spinning cars, the marshals enter the track to try to help the competitors get out of the way, but no one in charge thinks of stopping the race. Says engineer Gabriele Cadringher, FISA's technical manager:

 

"They tried to let them go on in order not to lose half an hour".

 

An absurd justification, because the cars that are leading the race arrive at the accident sites without any warning at full speed Not a flag, not a signal. If Berger, who is in the lead, doesn't realise what is happening and doesn't slow down, forcing everyone behind him to line up, one can't imagine what could have happened. The incident is triggered by a collision between Michele Alboreto's Ferrari and Nelson Piquet's Williams at the first corner. The Briton made a superb start ahead of Gerhard Berger, while Alain Prost zigzags around the track. Michele Alboreto is faster than the Brazilian on the outside. The Italian driver takes the corner not realising that he has the Williams on his side. Nelson Piquet can do nothing because he is already on the edge of the track. The two cars touch, Nelson does a half spin and hits the side of the Ferrari. Behind, Eddie Cheever is forced to brake violently and is hit by the other Arrows of Derek Warwick, who spins out. A few moments later, Alessandro Nannini and Adrian Campos also end up in the pile-up with the two Minardis A little further ahead, after passing unscathed, two Zakspeeds driven by Martin Brundle and Christian Danner find the Lotus of Satoru Nakajima traversed. In the meantime, at the start Nigel Mansell is the quickest off the mark, but Gerhard Berger immediately makes him realise what his intentions are. On lap two the Austrian passes the English driver and begins to gain a small margin of tenths of a second with each pass over the line. Behind the two leading drivers come Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Michele Alboreto, who passes Alain Prost. While the Austrian's Ferrari grinds out kilometres at an impressive pace, Nelson Piquet struggles to overtake Ayrton Senna. The Brazilian succeeds only when the Lotus driver steps aside, slowed by a problem with the ECU that will later force him to stop in the pit box to change it. A stop that costs him several minutes and a futile long chase ended unsuccessfully, as he finishes seventh. With the Lotus #12 out of action, it is Nigel Mansell's turn to leave the scene. When the Englishman has already managed to pull away from Nelson Piquet and Michele Alboreto, he is suddenly seen heading towards the edge of the track for a sad retirement. Again a broken engine, perhaps due to a broken exhaust. These are suspicious mishaps that accumulate from race to race, which Nigel Mansell pointed out several times. Certainly his relationship with Honda is not idyllic. In pursuit of Gerhard Berger comes Nelson Piquet, with Michele Alboreto right behind him. But the Ferrari continues to gain ground relentlessly. Indeed, at one point, on lap 27, Michele Alboreto even managed to pass the Williams. Two Maranello cars in the first two places, then the Brazilian passes Michele Alboreto again, but his gap to Gerhard Berger has already risen to over 20 seconds. Then the Brazilian slows down again and is passed by Michele Alboreto and Alain Prost, before the pit-lane tyre change phases begin. Nelson Piquet's Williams enters first, succeeding on the track in fifth position, then Alain Prost and Gerhard Berger stop. 

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For two laps Michele Alboreto climbs into first position. At the end of lap 36, the situation recomposes itself, with Gerhard Berger leading the race, followed by Michele Alboreto, Teo Fabi, author of a splendid race with the Benetton-Ford, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet. Two laps later, however, the Ferrari lost a car, that of Michele Alboreto, betrayed by the gearbox, again stopped by bad luck. Alain Prost rises to second position, while Nelson Piquet loses ground, now the most exciting part of the race begins. Gerhard Berger drives great and intelligently. The Austrian doesn't push hard, until the Frenchman gets too close. In order to save tyres and car, the Austrian driver's margin has thinned, to the sound of McLaren's lap record. Gerhard Berger knows that on the sprint he could have made it. And he makes it clear to his opponent with the absolute track record that he will not make it past him. But fate is lying in wait: In a right-hand bend the Ferrari, with its tyres at the limit of wear, takes off at the tail. The Austrian tries to control it, but the car eludes him, spins out and ends up with its nose in the opposite direction. Two spins, then recovery. But by now Alain Prost is past and wins the Portuguese Grand Prix. Gerhard Berger has to be content with second place, a bloody placing that is the best result of the season for Ferrari, but certainly does not reflect the values on the field. Nelson Piquet is third, followed by Teo Fabi, Stefan Johansson and Eddie Cheever. Alain Prost enters the legend for good and Ferrari daydreams, missing a victory it already had in hand. The Formula 1 Portuguese Grand Prix was one to remember. Conquering his victory number 28, the French driver became the number one driver of all times. It was a day that passed like a film, with three protagonists and many notable comprimarios. On one side Alain Prost, on the other Gerhard Berger and Ferrari. And a finale to the bitter end that saw the McLaren driver triumph, but which did not condemn the pair of drivers from the Maranello team, nor its cars, even if an error by the Austrian two and a half laps from the end of a thrilling race deprived the team of a success built piece by piece. But you know how things go: the winner is always right. And Alain Prost, happy, can celebrate a historic overtaking victory, the one that allowed him to leave behind a champion like Jackie Stewart, with whom he had 27 victories. 

 

"It was the toughest race I have ever had, I had vibrations in the front wheels and being on the track was a real problem. I knew from experience that everything would be decided in the last laps. I was not surprised by Berger's spin. I too was in danger of going off several times. We were pulling hard. And let's not forget that last year, right here, Piquet had lost a win for the same reason. The Austrian was good and unlucky. But with time he will have a chance to make up for it". 

 

Words of consolation, certainly not enough to soothe the bitterness and disappointment of Ferrari and Gerhard Berger. The men of the Maranello team, while in no way condemning their driver, suffer the final defeat. But the Austrian is lucid and courageous, and defends himself clearly: 

 

"I gave everything, lap by lap, until the end. I couldn't give up. When I realised that Prost was catching up, I slowed down a little to try to cool the tyres, which had deteriorated. Then I pushed hard, risking everything. I knew I still had two strong laps to go. And when you're going for it all, it's difficult to do the math, to avoid the dangers".

 

In a team there is always rivalry between two drivers. It is normal, human. But Ferrari also rediscovers cohesion, esprit de corps. The most beautiful words come from Michele Alboreto, who was forced to retire while fighting with the best, and who was forced to watch the race on television. 

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"It was a race won, Berger was outstanding. He is not to blame, anyone at that pace could have gone out. And let's not forget that he had a champion of Prost's calibre behind him. Ask the Frenchman: how many bitter pillows did he have to swallow before he became a champion? Too bad, we all wanted that success, we all wanted to give it to the engineer Ferrari. We see him every week, we know how he wants with all his might to see his team return to the top".

 

It was from 3 August 1973, the day of Jackie Stewart's last victory at the old Nurburgring, that the question was who would manage to overtake him. In Portugal, Alain Prost succeeded. And the Scot who witnessed the collapse of his record does not spare any compliments. 

 

"The record was beaten by the rider who deserved it most. He is the best of all". 

 

But Jackie Stewart also expresses words of encouragement for Ferrari: 

 

"It's all on the right track now. The Maranello team must take Berger's second place as an injection of confidence, because it is now ready to return to success".

 

Of course, it also takes fortitude. But there are precedents: even Niki Lauda, like his heir Gerhard Berger, lost races he had already won at the start of his career. It happened in 1975 and the following year Lauda was World Champion. Alain Prost won, but the World Championship was closer for Nelson Piquet. The rivals continued to divide the victories and the Brazilian took advantage of the situation. His third place probably won't do him much good in the final tally of points, as he will have to discard some. Both every race that passes is a step forward for him, if Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna do not finish among the leaders. In any case, on the plane of pure mathematics, the title discourse is still open for all the first four drivers in the ranking. Should Nelson Piquet win the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez, it would be over for Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost. Everything therefore plays in favour of the South American, third at the finish, on the day Prost entered the legend. A Grand Prix, however, palpitating, full of tension, of twists and turns, dominated but not won by Ferrari. The drivers had said on the eve of the race that it would be difficult to overtake and they proved themselves wrong, carrying out a series of thrilling overtakes, the likes of which had not been seen for some time. A sign that when there is balance, races are more beautiful, interesting and uncertain. While McLaren manager Ron Dennis almost throws himself onto the track when Alain Prost crosses the finish line, driven by an irrepressible joy, the Ferrari box has already been in the grip of despair for a few minutes. Genuine, sincere regret from everyone from designer Postlethwaite to the last of the mechanics. It was Maurizio Nardon, the technician in charge of Alboreto's car, who was the first to notice Berger leaving the track, followed by a unanimous chorus of voices saying:

 

"No, it is not possible". 

 

Piero Lardi Ferrari, the Modenese manufacturer's son, ran off towards the motorhome. Only a few ragged sentences could be wrested from him: 

 

"Even when we are the strongest, we don't win. It's unbelievable. Where is Berger? Maybe he's hiding".

 

Next to him, Marco Piccinini is more restrained: 

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"We dominated the whole weekend. A final fluke caused us to lose first place. In the past we have achieved many placings that have been criticised because they were also achieved thanks to the misfortunes of others. This time our second to Berger was worth a win. We must not throw away these kinds of opportunities. If someone had told us a month ago that the Portuguese Grand Prix would end like this, we would not have believed it". 

 

But there is hope for the near future. 

 

"Every race is a story in itself. I think we will be able to repeat ourselves, but there are always all kinds of new things coming out".

 

The only one expressing doubts about Ferrari's chances of success was Ayrton Senna, who finished seventh after being in the pits for almost two laps 

 

"A success for Berger and the Ferrari would have pleased me. But do the math, as the Honda engineers did: if you take away the stop I made, adding up the lap times, you can see that I would have won by a minute. Once again Piquet was very lucky”. 

 

His compatriot, however, does not spare him criticism: 

 

"Apart from the car hardening due to the active suspension not working perfectly, I found the greatest difficulty in overtaking Senna. He kept me behind, swaying like a ballerina, for several laps. He is truly the most unfair driver I have ever met". 

 

And speaking of impropriety, Nigel Mansell, also among the great disappointments, says: 

 

"I can't explain what happened to the engine. I already had doubts at Monza. I no longer know what to think. But as I am a sportsman, I won't say anything bad, against anyone. Only results count: when I can race I am faster than my team-mate. Now I wish Piquet victory. You can all draw whatever conclusions you want about my championship, I don't want to hear any more about it. What I can say is that I've always done my duty, it's not my fault if engines break down. And I beg the fans to be very patient: there will be other better years, my career is not over yet".

 

But has the 1987 season already found its ultimate champion? Piquet is explicit, to conclude: 

 

"Now Prost has the same chance as Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell. But every day that passes, especially like this, paves the way for me. The World Championship is now really close". 

 

Better one day as a lion or one hundred years as a sheep? For Gerhard Berger there is no doubt: the role of king of the forest suits him. The Austrian is deeply regretting having missed out on victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix. And he does not look for excuses, he admits that he made a mistake, that he was unable to hold his Ferrari in that damned downhill corner that pushed him out, leaving the way clear for Alain Prost. But he defends himself with logic and stubbornness. 

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"What would the people, the fans, the Ferrari engineer, have said if I had let myself be caught up and overtaken by Prost? I had no alternative, I had to push hard. And the risks were there, because we were travelling at qualifying pace, but with the brakes already overheated, with worn tyres. I know: a Lauda, a Prost maybe wouldn't have made a mistake. But I'm neither Lauda nor Prost, I'm Berger. I'm sorry, because the car was competitive. But now it's time to think about the next race". 

 

The World Championship does not allow a break. On Monday 21 September 1987 the vans of the circus set off for Jerez, in Spain, where on Sunday 27 September 1987 the thirteenth act of the World Championship would take place. And immediately a question materialises: will Ferrari be up to the task again, as it was at Estoril, where it obtained pole position, fastest lap in the race and 67 laps in the lead? Michele Alboreto answers:

 

"The situation should not change. The Spanish track is similar to the Portuguese one, even if it favours, based on the free practice sessions carried out in recent months, the cars with the new suspension. And in any case they are not decisive for the moment".

 

The same question put to Piero Lardi Ferrari, son of the Modenese constructor and perhaps the most disappointed of the team when Gerhard Berger ended up off the track, is answered in this way:

 

"It was better to take advantage of the opportunity. This is a sport where nothing is given to you. You have to break the ice and then maybe everything would have been easier. Instead you have to continue, anxious to find this victory that never comes. If you don't win when you are the strongest in the race, it becomes really difficult. However, I trust that the favourable moment will continue, all the conditions are there". 

 

Will you do something new on the cars? 

 

"I think not. At this point in the season the games are done. There will be some changes dictated by the needs of the moment. But nothing major, nothing structural". 

 

And where has John Barnard disappeared to? 

 

"He is working in England for next year. He has his own thing to do".

 

Will we never see him on the track again? 

 

"Things are fine as they are". 

 

But what happened to this Ferrari F1-87? Didn't Barnard himself, not recognising its paternity (which is Gustav Brunner, the Austrian technician who resigned last July) claim that it was some kind of dud? Michele Alboreto replies:

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"We worked on the set-up, on the chassis, with the aerodynamics. I had always said that the base was decent, that it was just necessary to aim in a certain direction. And I wasn't wrong. Now it's really good". 

 

Little is said about the engine. At Ferrari they have always been jealous of the engine. But something must have happened, because since Silverstone it has become more powerful. The changes may have affected reliability for a few races, but in Portugal it proved to be on a par with the Hondas and Porsches. There have been whispers in Formula 1 circles for some time that the Japanese had found a way to break through the 4 bar pressure ceiling without breaking the rules and without touching the pop-off valve that regulates the maximum pressure of the turbines. It may well be that Ferrari has now adapted, as McLaren-Porsche also seems to have done, given the result of the Portuguese Grand Prix. At Monza the German power unit looked uncompetitive, this time it looked better. Too bad both teams got there too late. In any case, FISA has already made it known that next year's 2.5 bar valves will be completely different. Better to think about it now. Alain Prost, the day after becoming the best, the greatest of all time, returns to say:

 

"Winning a race is the most beautiful thing in our profession. It is the absolute value. The rest is just statistics".

 

But what is his secret as a winning driver? 

 

"It is also a psychological fact. I never give myself away, I always aim for the best, for the full result. And then there's another real secret: Formula 1 fascinates me, it involves me, it takes up most of my time. But it's not my whole life. There's family, friends, golf, many other things. So, being able to recharge between races is very important". 

 

But where does he want to go? Now the next goal could be to break Fangio's record: five world titles. 

 

"Difficult, those were other times, although the Argentinean was an exceptional rider. Sometimes I think: maybe I would have done well to leave last year after the lucky success in the last race in Australia. Then I realise that I am not yet saturated, that I still have challenges ahead of me. I am 32 years old and I still feel whole". 

 

However, are there any targets? 

 

"Of course. If they were grandparents, it would be over. Firstly, the current season. I no longer believe I have a chance to catch up and overtake Piquet. I should win everything. But I will try. Second: I am curious about next year. At McLaren the Honda engine will arrive and Ayrton Senna will be with me". 

 

The confrontation with Senna, the emerging star. A battle that Prost wants to face, perhaps also to measure himself. 

 

"But there is more: in 1989 all cars will race with naturally aspirated engines. It was only back in 1980, when I made my Formula 1 debut, that I had the opportunity to drive non-turbocharged single-seaters. And that fact fascinates me. Think of a very balanced championship, with many cars capable of winning. What could be nicer, for a driver, than to seek a confrontation on equal terms?" 

 

It was in Portugal that one of the first naturally aspirated engines of the new generation was seen mounted on Philippe Alliot's Lola. The engine (which will be tested on Tuesday 22 September 1987 on the Portuguese track) is still the old eight-cylinder Cosworth, increased to 3500 cc, prepared by the Swiss Mailer. The novelty consists in the accessories, that is, in a brand new electronic system, with injection and ignition similar to those of turbochargers, developed by Magneti Marelli. Finally, there are the latest jolts for the drivers' market. Confirmed the imminent announcement for the passage of Riccardo Patrese to Williams (however, some details remain to be defined and the signature is still missing), the Brabham discourse opens. Ecclestone, owner of the team, in the last few days wanted to interrupt the activity for some time, devoting himself to his work as organiser. The idea had come to him because of the difficulties in finding a competitive engine. Now it seems that he has changed his mind and is willing to stay. Among the candidates to replace Riccardo Patrese is Alessandro Nannini and the name of Mauro Baldi is mentioned. Nannini could also be of interest to Benetton, who would like to turn to an emerging talent, in the very likely event that Teo Fabi maintains his intention to return to racing in the United States. Among the names under scrutiny are the very young and promising Alex Caffi and Stefano Modena, leader of the Formula 3000 championship. In conclusion, Renault, which officially abandoned Formula 1 last year, is reportedly planning to return with the production of a naturally aspirated engine. The engine, however, is not expected to be ready until early 1989.


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