The Formula One World Championship has shuffled the cards well. After a hesitant start in which Alain Prost played the lion's share, Ayrton Senna's victory at Monte-Carlo brought to uncertain standings and, above all, sparked the interest. Now several drivers are capable of aiming for the title: Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell. McLaren, Lotus, and Williams have played their aces, and it will be exciting to see whether the match will be just between these three racing teams or whether other teams will step in. On Sunday, June 21st, 1987, the circus will arrive in Detroit, the capital of motorsport - street circuit around the spectacular Renaissance Center, amid crystal skyscrapers and decaying hovels. A track so to speak, studded with dangers, not so much for the drivers (speed is fortunately limited) as for the cars that risk breaking down every meter of the course. A race therefore with no predictions. Expected to be tested once again is Ferrari, which has given some small signs of awakening in the last two races, with third places won by Michele Alboreto at Imola and in Monaco. But these are certainly not the placings that Maranello fans expect. Only a victory could boost the shares of the Modenese scuderia, to which the Barnard cure for the moment seems to have given some oxygen, without finding a definitive cure. It has been twenty-eight consecutive races since Ferrari achieved a first place, a genuine negative record. John Barnard is said to have been studying in his technological haven in Guildford, England, viable solutions to make the F1-87s more competitive. Modified suspension, different aerodynamics to give the red single-seaters more traction. Another tough test to face, the one in Detroit, for so many reasons. To tell the truth, the British engineer has always maintained that a breakthrough can only be there from the French Grand Prix. But, by dint of procrastination, Ferrari is in danger of failing.
"A Grand Prix? And what is it?"
Many people in Detroit, America's auto capital, don't even know what Formula 1 is. People say:
"Yes, these cars give a lot of annoyance. If you don’t want to deal with their annoying noise, you have to turn up the volume of the music in order to be able to dance".
Music and drinks are the indispensable elements for parties. And parties are the only real attraction these days; Formula 1 is just an excuse. Poor parties ($3 admission for one drink, for 10.000 people at the Westin Hotel Friday and Saturday nights), refined parties in private homes, e.g., at Edsel Ford's, rich parties, tuxedos and $150 per ticket, worldly parties, at Taboa, the nicest nightclub in town, owned by an Italian, Nino Cutrone. There is also the garage party: 13.000 liras, with the possibility of seeing, while drinking a beer behind a barrier, the mechanics working on the single-seaters. The whole thing is very American even if the Grand Prix is not just an occasion for partying or combining business. Last year in Detroit there were, in the three-day event, 274.000 spectators. And now organizers expect a 10 percent increase, 300.000 people. Not bad, since tickets cost from a minimum of $25 to a maximum of $100. The track is ready, with its somewhat rickety asphalt, its concrete walls, with 17.000 old tires piled in the most dangerous spots on the track. Also ready is a massive rescue service run by the police, omnipresent: on foot, on horseback, by helicopter and by boat along the banks of the Detroit River. Thousands of men were mobilized. Formula 1, strongly wanted by Ford, by GM and Chrysler to revitalize a city, with a dilapidated downtown and severely culturally diseased, fits in as an opportunity to meet. Although there is only one U.S. driver, Eddie Cheever, but he has always lived in Rome, and there are no American teams, the circus is seen as a trait d'union with the Europeans for this metropolis that was founded in 1701 by Frenchman Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. Teo Fabi, who for some has remained the man from Indianapolis, explains:
"It is true, Americans feel a lot of fascination towards the old continent, which bears an almost exotic flavor for them. A curiosity that drives them to come and see it, as they only know and are interested, with a few exceptions, in Nascar, Cart and so on, that is, racing aboard their own cars".
Teo Fabi, with his teammate, Thierry Boutsen, is the first to arrive in Detroit, partly because his team, Benetton, uses turbocharged Ford engines.
"We prepared well for the race and have two new chassis. Our engineers realized that the arrangement of carbon fibers on the old ones was not right, so they redid them. The powertrain has also undergone substantial changes. We should be more competitive Personally, I don't particularly like these street tracks".
For Fabi, the favorite is Alain Prost:
"He has had some issues, but the McLaren is the best car, the most balanced. The race here is a lottery, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Frenchman returned to victory, even though Senna is a great specialist on these circuits".
Regarding Ferrari, the Italian driver has no doubts:
"I'm convinced that before the end of the season they will win a race, so could Benetton".
For the past few days, the entire Michigan region, as indeed almost all of the United States, has been affected by a high-pressure situation: very nice weather, therefore, it is very hot, with peaks above 30 °C, that means, record temperatures. This favorable weather condition, however, seems to be ignoring Ferrari, on which, instead, the blizzard of controversy has hit again in recent hours. An incautious - to say the least - interview given some time ago by John Barnard, the technical manager of Maranello's team, published by a British newspaper, has in fact made the rounds of Formula 1, arousing smiles of commiseration (towards Ferrari itself), discussions, comments. John Barnard, in his Sunday Times op-ed, said good things (a few) and criticized a lot. In summary:
"Ferrari surprised me with its ability to react quickly, to work well and fast. Its technical possibilities are enormous, On the other hand, I found a lot of incapable people. I would kick a lot of them out. Postlethwaite himself has adapted to situations in Maranello. I don't stay in Maranello for that very reason, in order to avoid adapting to a wrong mentality. So I can control the situation better".
Those are pretty harsh words. One wonders why Barnard accepted the job. Especially since he had other offers. But he himself gives an explanation:
"Maybe it's a matter of money".
The good John, aka JB, does not even hide a certain dislike for Ferrari cars:
"I use a service Mondial, but my favorite car is a Mercedes: every year I buy a new one, currently I have a 600 Sec, the best car in the world".
And many thanks. He just misses saying that Enzo Ferrari doesn't understand anything, and then he could consider he did his employer a great service. He was harsh to journalists too:
"PR is a total pain in the ass".
Now perhaps Barnard will deny everything, say that the interview was fabricated or at least misrepresented. But it still seems clear that his opinion of Italians in general is not the highest. And the atmosphere in the team is especially affected. It is no mystery that many mechanics have become disenchanted with their work, which imposes many sacrifices. Enzo Ferrari recently accused Mauro Forghieri of leaving a void behind him. But if John Barnard should one day leave, what will be left in Maranello, given that racing cars are now designed in England and car parts are made there too, while in the Fiorano workshops only assembly is thought of? Who are the engineers capable of learning anything? The truth is that this technical choice made by Enzo Ferrari with the advice of Marco Piccinini seems to be a dead-end street: if Ferrari returns to winning (it is possible because Barnard is an excellent designer), people will say that all credit is due to the Englishman. If not, someone will be able to say that even with someone as good as Barnard, Maranello's team has not been able to recover. Gerhard Berger is the only one preaching calm, but how could he do anything else? The Austrian, who was also confirmed last week for 1988, while Michele Alboreto has not yet renewed his contract, says there are no problems:
"It is normal that there is rivalry between Michele and myself. Every driver wants to go faster than the others. If I didn't have that drive, I would have gone fishing instead. I work together with my team. It ‘s not my job to give Michele Alboreto information about the tuning of the cars. The engineers take care of that. If Ferrari were more competitive no one would think about the English engineers or the Spanish chief mechanic. A team that wants to win has to take the best designers on the market and the fastest drivers out there. The only problem is that right now there are three Honda-powered cars going faster. We are close to Prost's McLaren and we might even finish first in one of the next races".
What about here in Detroit?
"It's hard to say: you need very good traction, good brakes and an engine that responds promptly on this track. We have a completely new differential to try. We hope it will solve at least partly our troubles to put the horsepower our engine has on the ground well. That is all. For the rest we will have to wait for practice and the race itself. From tomorrow on we will see if we have made any progress".
Changing the subject, at the beginning of the season no one considered, except potentially, Ayrton Senna a real candidate for the world title. New car, electronic suspension to be tested, the Brazilian could be included at most in the list of the outsiders. Now the situation has radically changed: after four races, not only is the Lotus driver second in the overall standings behind Prost (18 points) by three points, but he could also make, at this Detroit Grand Prix, a resounding overtaking move. The second place in Imola and, above all, the recent victory in Monte-Carlo, have revived the actions of the 27-year-old racer from São Paulo. Not least because Senna has a favorable tradition in Detroit. Two pole positions in 1985 and 1986, a full win last year, when he preceded both Jacques Laffite and Alain Prost at the end of a backbreaking race - 16 drivers retired. Ayrton can rightly so be considered the king of city circuits, of those tracks where a superior driving sensibility is required, where the qualities of the driver emerge most often over those of the car. Ayrton Senna responds with a somewhat ambiguous smile:
"I actually do well on certain tracks that are a bit difficult, peculiar. It takes precise, careful and also brave driving. You have to be able to skim the walls to keep the best trajectories, avoiding bumping into them. It is not easy. There are also those who have managed to win in these situations with a different style, like Rosberg for example, but that is not my case. I can be impetuous, but I have also learned to my cost that it is better not to overdo it as the risk of an accident is lurking with every meter driven. Here there are big braking, edges, jumps that can put anyone in trouble".
Ayrton Senna can be included among the robot-drivers. Different from a Niki Lauda, from an Alain Prost, but still a racer equipped with a personal computer, capable of instantly assessing situations and reacting accordingly. At the present time, indeed, he is certainly among the protagonists of Formula 1, the most electronic man, since his Lotus is the only car to have active suspension, that is, a system to control the reactions of the same driven by a brain placed in a small box placed inside the car. Depending on the characteristics of the track, the situations, the speed, this sophisticated system tries to ensure a perfect balance of the single-seater. A considerable advantage when everything is working for the best:
"We are making continuous progress, although in each new race we face unknowns and if the risk of a sudden failure is always high. However, I must admit that we have a small margin, one more thing to exploit that our rivals do not have".
In Formula 1 circles, many argue that the title fight will be a family affair among the teams with Honda engines.
"The powerplant is great, and it certainly puts Lotus and Williams in a superior position. But I don't think you can consider Prost and his McLaren-Porsche cut out of the fight, the Frenchman is very good, perhaps the most complete and experienced driver at this time, and the team could always pull the winning ace out of its sleeve. No, the championship only ends its first phase here in Detroit, but it will continue in Le Castellet. As far as we are concerned, every race will be a test for us. Here I hope the active suspension will work as it did in Monte-Carlo, if not better. However, also watch out for my compatriot Nelson Piquet: he doesn't like these tracks very much, but by the law of large numbers he could win on Sunday. And he is the only one among the title candidates who has not yet scored a win this year".
A rumor is circulating in the Formula 1 environment, an indiscretion that some driver has spread around – Honda would have found a way to go beyond the 4-bar turbine pressure allowed by regulations:
"I'm not aware of it and I don't think it's possible. I have never seen on the instruments more than 4 bar. These are the usual excuses of those who are left behind. The truth is that maybe once in the race we do not need to get to the maximum, thing which we could do in qualifying. And this might give the impression that we have a superpower. In any case, it is clear that we have a lot of horsepower. And I intend to use them all to put myself in front of my rivals".
Friday, June 19th, 1987, the first round of qualifying for the Detroit Grand Prix is disastrous for the organizers. Minor incidents and mishaps cause abysmal delays to the scheduled times. First the circuit's internal telephone lines fail, then the stewards prove inefficient, with dangerous and slow maneuvers in retrieving cars stopped on the track due to breakdowns or crashes. This does not prevent Williams from dominating once again in Formula 1. In fact, it is Nigel Mansell who is the fastest: 1'42"333, a good time albeit far from the record set last year by Senna (1'38"301). In any case it must be said that the track has been slightly modified so any comparison is improper. Senna himself, on the very last lap, conquers the second position by passing Nelson Piquet. Three Honda-powered cars, then, ahead of everyone. Thierry Boutsen, in the Benetton-Ford, follows in fourth place. And the Ferrari people? Gerhard Berger is fifth, with a time of 1'45"054, as in almost three seconds slower than Nigel Mansell and the Williams. For Michele Alboreto, also overtaken by the two Arrows of Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever, only the eighth time, at more than three seconds. Even worse is Alain Prost, relegated to ninth, but it must be said that the French driver does not like this track and that his McLaren, always difficult to set up, can recover in the second round. The Maranello team is forced to overcome various troubles. Despite using a different type of differential, the cars do not improve significantly: they proceed at the same pace as in previous races, lacking traction and corner entry. Michele Alboreto also burns out a clutch.Maranello's team is also the victim of a petty theft. A thief breaks into the garage and steals some components of the radio system built into the cars.
The parts are later found and the system is put back in place. And this very Ferrari continues to be the center of attention. In every sense of the word. If things don't go too well on the track, worse happens outside. Statements published by the Sunday Times in an interview with John Barnard do not cease to cause discussion. The mechanics of the Maranello team, of course, are not talking, but it is an understatement to say that the words expressed did not please. One travels with downcast eyes while the British designer smiles only when in the company of an American blonde who has long frequented the pits and surroundings of the Maranello team. An embarrassing situation that forces Marco Piccinini to intervene in the affair. Ferrari's sports director does not accuse anyone, does not threaten any further action, but at least distances himself from the Englishman, without justifying him in any way.
"We hired Bernard to build the car and this is his task. It would be better if he could work in peace, as we expect good results from him. If we want to come back to this choice, I can say that we went for the best technician entering the market. We had contacted Gerard Ducarouge but his contractual position with Lotus was not resolvable. As for Barnard's interview with the Times, we cannot say anything until we are in possession of facts. We don't know whether Barnard's words were distorted, whether he really said those things. In any case this will certainly be discussed at a meeting in Maranello. However, it is not our fault that John has a certain character, that diplomacy is not his strong point".
In Detroit, Scuderia Ferrari is holding a sumptuous dinner at a Japanese restaurant on Friday night with the hope that the soft, brooding Oriental atmosphere may prompt Italian journalists to soften their tones, as the Maranello-based team has been increasingly criticized in the media lately. And not only by the Italian ones. In fact, Derek Allsop of the Daily Mail writes:
"Ferrari's troubles all originate within the team in the sense that in Maranello they had been waiting too long for the messiah, and now that the messiah, namely Barnard, has arrived, they are now getting nervous because the miracle is missing. In my opinion there are too many bosses at Ferrari and no one is really in charge. Some time ago I visited the factory and when I asked 'How many engineers do you have?' First I was told 18, then 20, then I was told maybe even more. To be honest I am not surprised that things are going badly. To make a racing team work, like any small- medium company you need one boss with clear ideas, as is the case at McLaren where one man, Ron Dennis, gives the orders".
And he reiterates Jean Sage, former Renault sports director, who says:
"I have many dear friends at Ferrari, but poor guys, what a disaster! Barnard is good, he's talented, he's done exceptional things, but he's not the man who can make others work enthusiastically. I would not be surprised if I were told that he has stepped on too many toes inside Ferrari, and then one might even speculate that within the team, seeing Barnard lose, may even please some people".
He is followed by Wagner Gonzales, journalist for O Estado de São Paulo, who writes:
"The perhaps insuperable stumbling block is getting the Italians to accept an Englishman and the Italians to accept an Englishman. Second trouble: the current car is not Barnard's creature but Ferrari's: patching it up is difficult. Third: in my opinion there is no point in designing the new cars in England and building them in Italy. It has never worked with the British people, neither in Brazil nor in America; why should it work with you Italians?"
Patrick Camus, of Auto Hebdo, adds:
"Ferrari lacks adequate facilities; they have taken too abrupt a step from craftsmanship to industry. Then there is a human problem: there are many good engineers and many good mechanics, but the right people in the right place are lacking. A racing stable is like an orchestra, it requires fellowship, enthusiasm, conviction, in short, a good working environment. Enzo Ferrari's personality is so strong that his employees overdo too often and end up doing badly. Finally, I have a suspicion: that an unbridgeable gulf is being created between Maranello and Guilford. I find it hard to imagine an Anglo-Saxon general leading Latin infantry".
And Mike Doodson, of Grand Prix, concludes:
"In my opinion, the Italians are pawing too much at Ferrari. You have to be patient. The current car is a hybrid, Brunner chassis, Postlethwaite aerodynamics, English suspension, Italian brakes, American clutch, and maybe there are parts made in Albania. I am not Barnard's friend, but I know that when he can make a car the way he wants it, things will work. He may have been too indiscreet with his recent interview, which I read and in my opinion is all true, but Enzo Ferrari was also indiscreet many times".
Perhaps also for this reason, a few days later, exactly on Thursday, May 21st, 1987, Alain Prost would deny the rumors of his move to Ferrari and confirm his loyalty to the British team on the very inauguration day of the new Woking plant, a facility where work is done by hand with the guidance of electronic instruments, used only at the design and drawing stage. The French driver will speak at the presentation of the McLaren historic car museum project where he found journalists waiting for him:
"I will only consider leaving McLaren when an offer from an even more competitive manufacturer comes to me. But for now I have no reason to leave McLaren, we are the strongest, the only opponent who can put fear into us is Williams. In Ferrari they are doing a good job to become competitive again, in a matter of two months they will. My next goal is to beat Jackie Stewart's world record, which I have already equaled, 27 wins, through the last one at Spa, Belgium".
To return to Ferrari an indiscretion, also not too pleasant, comes from Maranello. Apparently, there is a fear of a getaway by some of the technicians, who after Mauro Forghieri's move to Lamborghini allegedly expressed their intention to follow their master. Returning instead to the subject of the Detroit Grand Prix, while a consumerist orgy will be unleashed around the two great Formula 1 arguers - Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna will fight each other. More than 100.000 people are expected, but the most impressive is, the amount of food and drink of all kinds prepared to satisfy Americans’ terrible appetites, from 15.000 shrimps to hundreds of hectoliters of beer. The two, for the third consecutive time since the season began, will start on the front row, side by side. And, knowing their temperament and the rivalry that divides them, a fiery start is to be expected. On Saturday, June 20th, 1987, Nigel Mansell takes his eighth pole position (the fourth of the year out of five qualifying runs) in a single lap, immediately at the start of practice: 1'39"264, averaging 145.915 km/h. It is not the new track record, but the track has been slightly modified in the chicanes. The others can only watch, fighting for the other positions. And Ayrton Senna installs himself ahead of Nelson Piquet, while Alain Prost recovers a fifth place at the last moment, ahead of Thierry Boutsen. For Ferrari, it is not a happy day. The Maranello team is always far from the top, with Michele Alboreto 7th and Berger 12th. And you can sense a lot of tension in the pits. John Bernard has the Italian use the spare car while in theory it should have been available to the Austrian. In fact, Michele Alboreto had had transmission problems during the morning and his car was still not ready at the start of the last qualifying session. It is known that Ferrari is experimenting with a new differential, but the engineers do not explain on whichsingle-seaters it is mounted. Gerhard Berger ends up against a low wall, damaging the rear wing. Michele Alboreto says at the end of practice that he could have gained a few positions if the engine had not been running on five cylinders. There is therefore little chance of success for Scuderia Ferrari, even though this is a race-roulette.
Victory should be a family affair among the Honda-powered cars - the two Williams of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna's Lotus, with Alain Prost in the role of outsider. The World Champion is in trouble: he cannot maintain a similar trajectory to his rivals and often finds himself on the dirty asphalt, at risk of sliding off and with tires degrading rapidly. However, it all applies to everyone: the race is famous for sudden retirements. A moment's inattention and the walls come at you fearfully. Says Nigel Mansell at the end of practice, with some humor:
"I was lucky. I was able to have a perfect lap. Obviously my opponents didn't have the same chance. I hope the weather will be stable. Either dry or wet, but not an alternating situation. At the limit better the snow. It will not be an easy race. We had gearbox problems, there are also difficulties with engine overheating. When you go in the slipstream of another car, the temperature rises dramatically. We've also had special grills installed in front of the radiators to avoid picking up paper that flutters around the circuit. This looks like a track for electric cars. We zig-zag, Godspeed".
Ayrton Senna does not express himself more:
"Mansell's time was not attackable, so I devoted myself to preparing for the race. It will also be very hard physically. The one who can maintain the best concentration will win".
To give an idea of how easy it is to end up here in Detroit against one of the protections placed along the circuit (low walls, guardrails, piles of tires) suffice it to say that at least ten track exits occur, fortunately without serious damage. Among others, Nelson Piquet, Teo Fabi, Martin Brundle, Pascal Fabre and Gerhard Berger have the displeasure of experiencing the compactness of the obstacles. Not a Formula 1 race but a gymkhana. But the show wants this kind of entertainment anyway, in front of people eating hamburgers and hot dogs. There will be no shortage of show and maybe the surprise will come out at the end. An Eddie Cheever great specialist of difficult tracks starting in sixth position, a Riccardo Patrese always looking for glory. All difficult instead for Andrea De Cesaris, who crashes his Brabham into the Lotus of Satoru Nakajima stopped on the track due to a failure.
"He was going very slowly".
And this gives the measure of how reality and fantasy can blur when fatigue becomes impossible. Meanwhile, John Barnard continues to look imperturbable, at least in appearance. The British designer stays in the pits without looking anyone in the face, not even the Ferrari mechanics who receive orders from the other technicians, who are in charge of preparing the cars. It is unclear whether John Barnard realized that he had caused not only a scandal with his Sunday Times interview, but also an irremediable rift in the team. In the end, however, John Barnard does come clean. A few sentences with which he attempts to clear himself of the charges.
"The published interview was part of a very broad speech. Some passages were extrapolated from it that when put together changed the meaning of what I wanted to say. That's all. I had no intention of offending the Maranello people".
As always, journalists' fault then. Explanations and excuses that make no difference. There is only one reality: the behavior of the designer, unanimously considered one of the best in Formula 1, has not changed since he arrived in Maranello. Already at McLaren he stands out for his lack ofavailability, so much so that he clashed with the equally tough temper of the British team's manager, Ron Dennis, resulting in a divorce at the end of last season.
John Barnard, born in Wembley, married with kids, armed with a diploma that could be compared in Italy to that of an industrial expert, started out in a light bulb factory. Then he entered the world of Grand Prix racing and finally came to the technical leadership of the world's most famous team through a series of successes. His fortunes began in the United States, where he was in charge of building the Chaparral. Then McLaren: since 1984 he has dominated the scene, winning three World Drivers' Championships, one with Niki Lauda, two with Alain Prost. John Barnard is a winning man. But he has been at Ferrari officially since November 1986, and the results so far have not been evident. Some small progress, but nothing more. We return to the bitter talk with Marco Piccinini, sporting director of the Maranello team, the man who on behalf of Enzo Ferrari led the negotiations for the Englishman's engagement. Piccinini says:
"Granted that the Commendatore is analyzing facts before forming an accurate opinion of what happened and making decisions that will not necessarily be public, what could we do? We have confidence in Barnard as a designer and we are waiting for the results as much as anyone. There is a program to be met, there are goals to be achieved. But you have to put other people to the test as well, who are not standing still. There is a lot of talk about the means available to Ferrari. True, they are plentiful. But let's not forget that we, together with 230 people build cars totally by ourselves, while McLaren and Williams exceed 130 employees and still get the support of giants like Honda and Tag- Porsche for their engines. Even when it comes to economic budgets, maybe, they are superior to us".
However, some argue that this technology antenna implanted in England, with the opening of the Guilford office, will eventually impoverish Maranello.
"Who said that? We continue to hire people. Barnard asked for it and got to work in his country, but we are still talking about a subsidiary that is owned by Ferrari. And John is just an employee. He is not a shareholder in Guilford nor will he ever be".
Is it true that the cars will progressively be designed and manufactured in detail in England, leaving the Fiorano workshops with the only task of assembly?
"This is also not true: some prototypes and parts that have often been entrusted to outside suppliers and for which there is a peculiar specialization, such as the welding of the suspension arms, will be fine-tuned in Guilford. For the rest, it will be people in Maranello who will proceed with the construction of the single-seaters, especially with regard to aerodynamics and composite chassis entrusted to Harvey Postlethwaite".
Sunday, June 21st, 1987, at the start of the Detroit Grand Prix Nigel Mansell is quick to move into first position, even as Ayrton Senna does not insist on his action. Mindful perhaps of previous incidents, the Brazilian prefers to take his foot off the accelerator so as not to cause trouble from the very first lap. Immediately after the start there is an accident caught on live television by the camera placed on the Lotus of the Japanese Satoru Nakajima. Car #11 hits the Minardi of Adrian Campos and Satoru Nakajima spins out, eventually crashing into the wall. Both out of the race. Nigel Mansell has forced the pace, while from the rear, with much skill, emerge Michele Alboreto and Gerhard Berger, who gain a few positions over the field. Also very skillful is Eddie Cheever who passes Nelson Piquet while Teo Fabi attacks and leaves Michele Alboreto's Ferrari behind him. On the third lap the first twist: Nelson Piquet, who was in third position behind Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, is forced to come into the pits to replace his punctured left front tire. The Brazilian restarts in 18th position and thus begins his long charge through the field. Behind the Englishman afurious fight develops. On the sixth lap Teo Fabi tries to pass Cheever, but perhaps miscalculates the braking point and ends up against the Arrows of the American from Rome. Off goes the Benetton's nose, race is over for him. And Eddie Cheever is forced into a long chase that will end in sixth place.
The race continues with the long-distance duel between Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, with no major changes. The group following the two leading drivers, with Michele Alboreto moved up to third place after the incident between Teo Fabi and Eddie Cheever, continues without any problems. The race procedes quietly until lap 25, when it becomes clear that Michele Alboreto is in trouble: the Italian driver is passed both by Alain Prost, who has already been following him for a few kilometers like a shadow, and by his teammate, Gerhard Berger. Says Michele Alboreto, through the on-board radiotelephone in the pits:
"I have some problems with the gearbox".
Then the Italian driver returned to the pits extremely nervous, almost furious:
"I can't get a good one behind me. I was having a good race, maybe I could have stood up to Prost as well, in any case I probably would have gotten on the podium. Unfortunately it's a difficult period for me, the car was not great but it allowed me to keep a good track position".
Exactly two laps after the halfway point of the race Nigel Mansell is the first to stop in the pits to change his tires, which are now worn. The stop is fatal to the Englishman who, among other things, loses 18.54 seconds due to the right rear tire not fitting into the hub. Thus Ayrton Senna passes largely in command, never to be taken back. The Brazilian in the Lotus imposes a hellish pace that the other competitors can no longer keep up with. Nigel Mansell even gets overtaken by Alain Prost, but then, after a few slow laps due to new tires, he re-establishes himself again in second position. Ayrton Senna's lead climbs steeply to the one-minute mark over Nigel Mansell, while Nelson Piquet pulls back into third after a risky overtaking move on Alain Prost, not too comfortable with a McLaren that evidently does not allow him to run regularly. On lap 45, on the pitlane straight, Philippe Streiff touches the protective wall with his right rear suspension and loses his wheel. The heavy tire rolls onto the track as cars pass dangerously close to it. On Lap 52, still with Ayrton Senna in the lead, now relaxed, Nelson Piquet passes Nigel Mansell, who is in trouble instead. The Englishman signals to his teammate to go ahead, and Nelson Piquet thus takes second place. Ayrton Senna wins the Detroit Grand Prix, followed by his compatriot, Nelson Piquet, and Alain Prost. Ferrari had to be content with Gerhard Berger's fourth position: a meager balance, even in view of the fact that on this occasion Lotus, Williams and partially McLaren proved to be clearly superior in level of competitiveness. Reliability was also lacking for Michele Alboreto's car. Nigel Mansell took a hard-earned fifth place, while Eddie Cheever, also the author as mentioned of a fabulous comeback, took sixth. It was all easy for Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian taking his second consecutive Formula 1 victory. After Monte-Carlo, the Detroit Grand Prix, another street circuit.
And so he takes the lead in the World Championship. A perfect race, his, without a smear, conducted on a very high pace, but with a restful finish. The race was once again a Brazilian festival, because behind Ayrton Senna's Lotus came an equally brilliant Nelson Piquet, capable of a fabulous comeback after being forced to stop on the third lap due to a tire puncture. Third was Alain Prost, never in contention for victory. Ferrari won a fourth place with Gerhard Berger, while Michele Alboreto was forced to retire, when fighting for third, because of a broken gearshift. Nigel Mansell, star of the early part of the race, had to slow down. The Williams-Honda driver was slowed by leg cramps, terrible fatigue and tension, so much so that, crossing the finish line, he suffered a minor collapse. The Englishman fainted, but later recovered in the infirmary. Ayrton Senna's achievement once again bears the hallmark of Lotus' new active suspension, the system even here, on Detroit's city streets full of jumps and potholes, proved to be an extra weapon for the South American driver. He was the only one who did not change tires (along with Nelson Piquet, who, however, replaced them after three laps due to a puncture) and was thus able toovertake all his opponents, who were forced to make pit stops. In any case, Ayrton Senna would have been able to catch everyone thanks to his brilliant pace, which allowed him to achieve, on lap 39, the lap record of 1'40"464, almost a qualifying time.
The Brazilian samba continues to be the driving motif in the Formula 1 World Championship. Every race is a celebration, with fans waving flags in the stands, a Maracana-like spectacle. Then there was the derby in Detroit, and Ayrton Senna still won his match with Nelson Piquet.
"Every victory has its own story. I can't explain whether I was more pleased with the one in Monte-Carlo or with this one. The last one however is always the most beautiful. The choice not to change tires matured only during the race. We knew we could risk it, but we weren't sure. However, I tried to save the tires at the beginning so that I wouldn’t be conditioned by the pace set by Mansell".
For Senna, the talk regarding the world title is still all uphill:
"Now come the fast tracks and it will be hard for me. The situation will be clearer only at the end of July".
Next to the winner is a happy but exhausted Nelson Piquet. When the Brazilian hears the word suspensions, however, he recovers his energy.
"From the next race in Le Castellet, for the French Grand Prix, active suspension will no longer be needed by Lotus. The championship is not astutely compromised, in fact I am very confident because now Williams will be able to dominate the scene. For me this second place is a positive result. I don't know if I could have won without the initial stop to replace the punctured tire. Coming back up however was so hard, every overtake was literal agony and I had to pass some cars twice".
Prost also appears optimistic, although he was never in contention for the first place.
"God willing, we have overcome these terrifying city circuits. From Paul Ricard it will be a different thing and we will start all over again".
For Ferrari still a meager balance sheet. Says Gerhard Berger:
"So many small problems, I could never force the driving. I was hoping for a tire change, but five laps after the stop I was in trouble again".
Michele Alboreto was a little more annoyed:
"The car was fine. In fact, I was keeping a leisurely pace at the beginning, hoping to attack in the finale. I even felt like I could catch up with Senna. Then the gearbox began to harden and then there was the failure that forced me to retire".
Meanwhile, we learn that John Barnard will be reporting to Maranello on Wednesday, June 24th, 1987. This in itself is not of great importance; after each race it is normal for the designer to report on what happened. This time, however, it is easy to talk about his interview given to the Sunday Times. Finally, the after-race reveals Nigel Mansell's problems. This will be an important week for Scuderia Ferrari. A summit convened by Enzo Ferrari is scheduled in Maranello, which will be attended by managers, technicians and the drivers. Such meetings are normal after every race, but now the meeting takes on special significance. The Formula 1 World Championship has practically concluded the first third of the season, and for more than six months the British designer John Barnard has been in charge of the team. The record is not failing the expectations, but neither is itexciting.
A few placings and nothing more, with cars that cannot hold a candle to Williams, Lotus and McLaren in terms of overall performance. John Barnard had to use a single-seater that had been prepared by Austrian Gustav Brunner, but still something more was expected. Reason one can think that Enzo Ferrari, beyond any talk (the issue of the obnoxious interview with the Sunday Times is always at stake), will ask the Wembley engineer to speed up the time to get to the results. The other point of discussion will be the situation of the drivers, the sporting director, Marco Piccinini has already made it known that on Gerhard Berger will be enforced the option for another year. More fluid is the position of Michele Alboreto, who should ask for certain guarantees before renewing his contract. Michele Alboreto is sentimentally attached to Scuderia Ferrari and would like to stay. But after four seasons of shared sacrifices he would deserve a good clarification about the internal relations and above all to have guarantees from John Barnard himself for a global collaboration, when it comes to car tuning, preparation and information. So it seems to be understood that often the designer does not take into account the evaluations and requests of the driver. If Ferrari does not take the problem into consideration, Michele Alboreto will be forced, despite himself, to leave. And there are already those who are ready to welcome him with open arms: just to mention one, Frank Williams. A decision, however, will be made within ten days or so. Before leaving Detroit, Michele Alboreto nevertheless expresses words of confidence about the car's chances. Having vanished the anger over a possible missed podium, the Italian driver says:
"I raced with the old differential and a new clutch with carbon discs. We are working a lot, there is a basis for improvement. We now have good aerodynamics, and a decent chassis, for the engine there are no problems. The weak point of the car is traction: you step on the accelerator, and the wheels slip around when coming out of corners. Also, this single-seater is not agile and easy to drive. Returning to fast tracks like Le Castellet, these drawbacks should lessen. With high speed, the aerodynamic pressure allows for acceptable grip".
Everything depends on whether Enzo Ferrari wants to put the pieces of this complicated mosaic together. John Barnard with Michele Alboreto (and Gerhard Berger, of course) and all together for Ferrari. Otherwise it will be another wasted season. Not least because the opponents continue to progress. And let's turn to an analysis of the Detroit Grand Prix. The Austrian explains:
"I never had good grip, even when I changed tires. After a few laps I was at the same point as before".
Michele Alboreto replies:
"It makes me angry, because I could have finished in the top three. At one point, maybe because he had slowed down, I was catching up to Senna. I would have liked to see if I could keep up with him. Instead I had to retire".
Who is afraid of Ayrton Senna? The question is inevitable after the Brazilian's second success of the season. Let's take stock: two wins, one second place at Imola. Total, 24 points and first place in the World Championship standings, two points ahead of Alain Prost and six ahead of Nelson Piquet. Opponents, however, do not believe that the Lotus driver can really aim for the world title. They are all convinced - Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet first - that Ayrton Senna is a flash in the pan destined to be extinguished in a short time, that is, with the return to classic circuits with an average speed of over 200 km/h. They say:
"The active suspension that helped Senna can be a certain advantage on city tracks. On real racetracks it becomes an almost useless appendage, if not harmful because of the complications it can cause".
Senna does not react to these statements. On the contrary, he seems to value his rivals' ideas. However, in his words one can sense a minimum of menace when he says:
"The suspension is just one part of my car. And so many components are needed to win".
Does it mean that Lotus will be able to be competitive in the upcoming races as well, that the car made by Gerard Ducarouge will be among those to beat in the upcoming races as well? One thing is certain. The French designer, Lotus' chief of the technical area, has been putting his foot down in recent days. Before leaving for Detroit, the French technician threatens to leave the team if he is not given the means to develop his single-seater. Faced with these prospects, the team manager, Peter Warr, assures an additional economic effort. It is therefore conceivable that Ducarouge will continue to work in the coming days with increased vigor to devise the necessary solutions for the fast circuits. If the outcome is positive, there will be trouble for the title contenders. Nor should the maturity achieved by Ayrton Senna be underestimated. Gone are the days when the Brazilian went wild on the track, taking risks and making others take risks. His talent has remained unchanged, but experience and tactical ability have increased. Exemplary was his behavior on Sunday: he let Nigel Mansell past to save tires and brakes, went on the attack at the right moment, forced the pace to wear down his rivals and let them know they could not catch up with him, decided not to change tires, and finally slowed down in the finale just enough to stay out of danger. Senna is meticulous and determined, but also likeable and cheerful when he wants to be. Extraordinary was his lucidity (a sign of excellent physical preparation) in the final part of the race, when he allowed himself to raise his hand from the steering wheel at full speed in order to greet viewers around the world live. A gesture that offers a measure of the extraordinary vitality of a possible champion-to-be.