#446 1987 Austrian Grand Prix

2023-01-11 23:00

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#1987, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Chiara Cavina,

#446 1987 Austrian Grand Prix

Formula 1 is not only made up of cars and engine, but also of men. Some drivers became legendary in their time: Nuvolari, Clark and Villeneuve among t


Formula 1 is not only made up of cars and engine, but also of men. Some drivers became legendary in their time: Nuvolari, Clark and Villeneuve among those who passed away, Fangio, Stewart and Lauda among the living. However, not too far behind the scenes, there are many other names known to the general public. Besides Enzo Ferrari, known around the world as an example of Italian character as much as pizza and spaghetti, we find other men who have been widely talked about: the brilliant Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus, sadly deceased, the cunning Bernie Ecclestone, FOCA’s all-powerful patron, and Jean-Marie Balestre, ineffable president of FISA, just to name a few. Among these motor racing giants makes his way also a shy, reserved, sometimes hot-tempered, but very successful man. A man who can be held up as an example, who bears the stigmata of a terrible punishment, linked precisely to engines, to speed, to that cruel and fascinating world that is Formula 1. We are talking about Frank Williams. Even those who are not fans, those who follow racing absent-mindedly, will have noticed a few times on television the cameras framing a gentleman sitting on a wheelchair in the pits. It's him, the British manufacturer who in the last seven years, since 1980, has won three World Constructors’ Championships and two World Drivers’ Championships, with Alan Jones and Keke Rosberg. And who is currently dominating the World Championship with Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell. 8th March 1986: on a road in the south of France, near the Le Castellet circuit, a rental car crashed after a terrible skid. 


Frank Williams was pulled from the wreckage almost to the brink of death. He was returning from a test session of his cars. He was brought to the hospital, first in Marseille, then in England. He survived, but he was confined to a hospital bed with a terrible sentence: quadriplegia. He will never move anything again, not even his head. The end of everything. But also the beginning of a miraculous recovery. A year later, Frank Williams, on his wheelchair, comes back to racing, managing the team. He barely swings his arms, but he also spends many hours in the workshop, he listens to everybody, he observes carefully and gives instructions. This is essentially Frank Williams. Someone else in his place would have given it all up and thought only of their health. Instead, he found the strength to endure, to overcome a physical and psychological ordeal. Just as he had started with a thousand difficulties, he continued with the same toughness, the same determination. Frank Williams was a poor racer in Formula 3. He was intelligent and had immediately realised that that of being a racing driver was not the right path. He started selling small single-seaters in the same category, the Brabhams. But he was already dreaming of a team of his own. In 1968, still with a Brabham in Formula 2, he patronized a small private team. In 1969 he was already in Formula 1 with a Brabham-Ford. Then it was the turn of De Tomaso, March, Politoys, Iso, Hesketh. He travelled to Italy with a pickup truck, carrying spare parts himself, in great financial straits. But his escalation continued. In 1975 he was finally able to found a team under his own name. Still difficult beginnings, but the tough Englishman prepared a winning programme. First of all, the right men in the team. When the Canadian billionaire Walter Wolf wanted to buy him the team (which raced with Heskeths) he told him:


"Just don’t keep the engineers".


Williams answered:


"I only want him".


And he pointed at Patrick Head.


"You can keep him: he’s fat and annoying".


And now Patrick Head is one of the most popular designers. Frank Williams, 45, a wheelchair, a factory in Didcot with 104 employees, a wealthy wife, three children aged 6 to 12, a secretary, Jan, and a physiotherapist, Peter. 


This is his world. Behind him are resounding successes, a championship lost to not let Carlos Reutemann win, munificent sponsors (he was the first to contact the Arabs, and now he has the Japanese Honda and Canon, the giant Mobil, Denim, the Italian Fondmetal, and all together they pay tens of millions of dollars to write their names on his single-seaters). In his future there is the possibility of partially recovering the use of his arms and a big chance of winning another World Championship at the end of the season. Would he start all over again?


"I would do it all again without changing a thing".


On Wednesday, 12th August 1987, Styria was also hit by bad weather, to the extent that parts of the region were declared disaster areas. It is a general bad weather condition that has apparently affected the whole of Europe this year, and the Alps in particular. So, the meadows turned into mud traps welcome the first fans who have arrived for the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix. Many fans. Around the circuit one can see numerous tents with Italian flags and the ever-present Ferrari banners. The organisers say:


"If the Maranello team had won in Hungary, we would have had at least 50.000 spectators from Italy. Ferrari did well anyway and we expect at least 25-30.000 spectators".


But it is not only Ferrari that arouses enormous interest. The biggest attraction for spectators at home is obviously Gerhard Berger, the Austrian driver of the Scuderia Ferrari. Around here the interest in Formula 1, after the retirement of Niki Lauda at the end of the 1985 season, had slackened a little, so much so that it was feared, also for economic reasons, that the Zeltweg race would be cancelled. Now, however, the presence in a prestigious team of the 27-year-old driver from Worgl (a small town near Innsbruck) caused a formidable turnaround.


"The phone in my office in Kundl rings constantly, from morning to evening and even at night. Everyone wants to know about my health condition. After Hungary I actually feared I shockingly wouldn’t be able to attend my home race. I was sick, my stomach and intestines were a wreck. That's why on Monday I went to see Willy Dungl (Lauda's friend and physiotherapist) to have myself examined. Now everything seems to be OK, I feel fine. But maybe word got out that I was forfeiting, and people were worried. When they heard that there was no problem, they started asking me for tickets…".


The rumour of his admission to a Viennese hospital is therefore completely unfounded. This means that everyone expects a starring performance.


"I can promise that I will do everything I can. In fact, I am convinced of it. We are progressing, last Sunday we could even have achieved a very brilliant result. Sooner or later we will hit the target. And why not in Austria? The track is very fast, but there shouldn't be any problems because now our cars have become much more balanced, both in qualifying and in the race".


Gerhard Berger has already raced several times on the Österreichring. With touring cars at the beginning of his career, then in Formula 3 and since 1985 with Formula 1. Last year, driving a Benetton he dominated the early part of the race. Twenty-five laps in the lead and also the fastest lap.


"I like the track very much and I am hyped about it. But it will not be easy: Williams, Lotus, McLaren and Benetton will be very competitive. It will be already hard to get a good position at the start. What is important, however, is the race. Recently we have had a lot of problems due to poor reliability. Hopefully we have found the right solutions".


Scuderia Ferrari, although the team is not back in Maranello, is meticulously preparing for Sunday's race. The cars have been completely overhauled. The flat bottom has been reinforced and the aerodynamic configuration will be similar to that of Hockenheim. Other novelties: the use of small wings and the optimisation of the cooling circuits seem ideal on a circuit that subjects the engines to heavy stress, as lap averages can exceed 260 km/h.


"I know that the team is doing everything possible to seek positive results. No stone is left unturned, every little detail is seen and reviewed. We have also been plagued by bad luck. A doom that has to end. It would be great to arrive at the next race, at Monza, with at least a brilliant placing behind us. And I don't want to say anything else, also out of superstition".


Ferrari also prepared a plan to put the two drivers at ease. The cancellation of the Canadian Grand Prix had messed up the plans and here in Austria the reserve car, alternating between Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto, would have fallen to the Italian. Instead, the car will be at the full disposal of the Austrian while the Italian will have two cars at Monza, in front of his home crowd. A long negative tradition accompanies Scuderia Ferrari at the Austrian Grand Prix, which kicks off on Friday, 14th August 1987 with the first qualifying session. Only two wins, in 1964 thanks to Lorenzo Bandini and in 1970 thanks to Jacky lckx. Then darkness, even in the best years, the golden era of Niki Lauda, who only managed to write his name in the hall of fame of his home race at the wheel of the McLaren, in 1984. Bitter memories that add to the 32 consecutive races without a win in the last three seasons: there is little to be optimistic about even if the Maranello team at Hockenheim and in Hungary showed clear signs of recovery. Gerhard Berger, fully recovered from the illness that tormented him last week, and Michele Alboreto are quite excited, but at the same time very cautious in their predictions. The Austrian says:


"I don't know, each circuit is a separate story, it's pointless to rack your brains and ask questions. We'll see on Sunday night".


A speech that makes perfect sense and is more effort than it is worth. But it would be difficult to make any others without becoming ridiculous. However, the Maranello team does present something new. Back on track is Piero Lardi Ferrari, the team's general manager, while John Barnard is still absent. The Modenese manufacturer's son takes stock of the situation very calmly, avoiding any polemical or critical tone.


"Barnard was at Maranello on Monday and Tuesday. He wanted to know all the details of what happened in Hungary, he spoke to the engineers, gave advice, information and instructions. However, it must be said that he is overloaded with work for the future, preparing the 1988 car. These are difficult and very important decisions we have to make. A year ago, it was certain that the turbo engine would be obsolete in 1988. Instead, there has been incredible progress and there will be more. That is why it will be necessary to do some more comparative tests".


An interesting topic, but people, the fans, want to know if Ferrari will go back to win sooner, perhaps on Sunday.


"It is not a matter to underestimate for next year, because choosing the naturally aspirated engine could mean giving up fighting for the World Championship. For the rest, we can guarantee that we always race to win, to get results. Even on this occasion. We have to find reliability and we are working on that".


The Maranello team is working hard, modifying the cars, finding new solutions. But in the meantime, the others are moving forward.


"Chasing is getting more and more difficult. We have fallen behind and now it is very hard to catch up. Also because every time a new problem arises. You put a patch on one side and a flaw opens up on the other. The fault on Alboreto's engine last Sunday, for example, happened because the damper broke, a flywheel that serves to dampen the engine's vibrations. A part identical to that found on production cars. It had never failed".


Williams, however, still seems uncatchable.


"It is a team that was able to capitalise on what it had done before and especially in 1986. We, on the other hand, have started from scratch. When it comes to technical matters nothing can be solved with a stroke of genius. You have to work methodically, all together, hoping to find the right path".


An assessment of the ten months of the Barnard administration? Piero Lardi Ferrari does not answer, he prefers to overlook it. If he is unhappy, he doesn't let it show. It seems in any case that the English designer will not be seen even at Monza, where he could face a heavy protest. In the meantime, Nigel Mansell arrives in Zeltweg, fresh and rested.


"I was in the mountains at an altitude of 1.200 metres, went for long walks and forgot the misfortune of Budapest".


Prost, winner in the last two races at Zeltweg, also appeared serene, ready for a joke:


"Good things come in threes. And it's too long since I arrived first at the finish line".


On Friday, 14th August 1987 Williams is still on another planet, but Ferrari continues to grow. In the first qualifying session of the Austrian Grand Prix the two drivers of the English team contend, as usual, for pole position. Nelson Piquet put Nigel Mansell behind him by 0.1 seconds with a sensational lap: 1'23"357, a new track record at an average speed of 256.621 km/h. This is the second fastest speed ever achieved in Formula 1, after that recorded in 1985 by Keke Rosberg at Silverstone, again with Williams, at 258.984 km/h. Ferrari is third with Gerhard Berger and sixth with Michele Alboreto, beaten in a sprint by Teo Fabi on the last lap by 0.23 seconds after his teammate, Thierry Boutsen, had also done better than the Italian. The fight for the qualifying positions is certainly very heated and spectacular. The day, however, is also characterised by a series of accidents, which fortunately end without serious damage. The protagonists are Stefan Johansson, Nelson Piquet, Pascal Fabre and Derek Warwick. The ugly adventure of McLaren's Swedish driver Stefan Johansson, in the morning during free practice, has something incredible: he ran over nothing less than a deer on the track, while he was driving at over 240 km/h. The animal had appeared from the woods surrounding the circuit. Frightened by the noise, chased by the men of the security services, it jumped over a fence and crossed the asphalt ribbon at the top part. Then, running in a zig-zag, it arrived in the lower part, behind the pit straight, before the Rindt curve, where there is a bump. Stefan Johansson, unaware of the moving obstacle, found the deer right in front of him and could not avoid it. The impact was of great violence: the poor beast, hit head-on, was completely smashed. Some of its parts were also found on the car. The single-seater was also basically destroyed. 


Three wheels were torn off, thew chassis was bent, and eventually the car caught fire. The driver barely made it out of the cockpit. Johansson, with the spare car, was later able to take part in the timed tests. But he had also suffered a blow to a wrist and neck, for which he was transported to Klagenfurt immediately after the end for a series of tests and X-rays. The episode, by the way, comes to complicate matters in view of an announced protest by the Greens against motor racing. It seems that the environmental movement is planning to carry out a demonstration in an attempt to have the race cancelled. They would like to block the entrances or - it is said - even descend on the track with a helicopter. And the killing of the deer run over by Johansson could also increase the tension. Another incident involved Piquet, also in the morning. The Brazilian's Williams hit Fabre's Charro at the exit of the Rindt corner, at 300 km/h. Piquet was good at controlling the car, which had a bent suspension.


"The speed difference is the cause of this kind of trouble. I couldn't brake and passed on the inside. We barely touched, but we risked a lot".


There was also a risk for Teo Fabi and Thierry Boutsen. The two Benetton drivers found themselves going through the chicane a moment after Derek Warwick's Arrows had spun, slammed into the embankment and returned to the track, stopping in a very dangerous spot. There were no signs, and the impact was narrowly avoided.


"But what a scare".


Nelson Piquet then made up for it in the afternoon, taking provisional pole position. A small masterpiece, his, despite a wrong gear change. The South American driver displayed all his skill and experience: after the Texaco Kurve one comes out a bit off balance, ending up in an undulating section of track that makes the cars jump. Nelson anticipated the acceleration and, countersteering, managed to hold the tight line, perhaps gaining that precious tenth that allowed him to overtake Nigel Mansell, who, however, promises revenge. The Englishman, annoyed at having to have his wisdom tooth removed, takes the partial defeat philosophically:


"Here first or second row or count for little. And I prepared above all for the race".


For the first time in two years the atmosphere is decidedly serene in the Scuderia Ferrari box. From the cautious prognostications of Hockenheim and Budapest, there is a shift to a certain optimism, justified at least by the results in practice, even if the day is not a happy one from all points of view, but troubled by small problems. Gerhard Berger says:


"I feel good, the car is competitive, everything is going well. I could have won in Hungary, I was faster than Mansell in the corners and I have good hopes for a brilliant result in this race. The engine has improved, the aerodynamics are effective. In short, there are prospects to be protagonists".


Michele Alboreto is even clearer, despite a certain disappointment at ending up behind his teammate.


"One always wants more, but I am already happy. There is still some understeer to be removed, especially at the Bosch corner. With the wind tunnel at Fiorano, we have made considerable progress. Before, we had to work on Fridays just to understand the tracks and we lost a lot of precious time. Now we arrive at the circuits with very few adjustments to make. We still had some doubts to solve, because the Budapest track is completely different from this one, very fast. Instead, the signals were positive. We are growing steadily, and I think we will do even better at Monza. In short, on paper we can be winners, even if in qualifying Williams still has a few more possibilities. We can make up 34 tenths, but not reach them".


Marco Piccinini's words about John Barnard's absence are very important in understanding the situation.


"He stayed in Guildford at the specific request of Enzo Ferrari. He asked our designer for something concrete for the future".


Essentially, the manufacturer from Modena required the designer to get to work on deciding whether to make a turbocharged or naturally aspirated car for next year.


"Furthermore, if there was a problem of understanding with a driver, let's say Alboreto, that was solved, and everything seems to be going well, to everyone's satisfaction".


From happy notes to less positive ones. Michele Alboreto broke an exhaust manifold in qualifying and was stopped for half an hour. Previously on Gerhard Berger's car the cover of a drive shaft had broken down. Then the Austrian remained stationary on the track with the spare car. But it seems that it was an inattention on his part: he must have inadvertently switched off the fuel pump. However, it seems that Ferrari has several engines, the most powerful of which would have been entrusted on this occasion, rightly, to Gerhard Berger. In the meantime, there is a kind of peace between Ayrton Senna and Michele Alboreto, brought about by Marco Piccinini: big words had flown between the two after Michele had almost been thrown off the track by the Brazilian in a previous race. The presence of Ayrton Senna in the Ferrari garage immediately arouses a flurry of rumors about an exchange between the two drivers. But they are only fantasies. Instead, the possibility of Riccardo Patrese to replace Nelson Piquet at Williams is concrete. Bernie Ecclestone would be the one pushing the Italian driver. On Sunday 18th August 1987, the Austrian Grand Prix is also characterised by numerous accidents, which raise several doubts about the safety of the Austrian track. The race was restarted as many as three times. During the first start, Nelson Piquet is overtaken by an ardent Teo Fabi, but the start is cancelled shortly afterwards due to a series of accidents. The first one involves Martin Brundle, who loses control of his car, hits a barrier and bounces off, ending up in the middle of the track. René Arnoux and Adrián Campos, on Ligier and Minardi respectively, hit the Zakspeed, while the two Tyrrell cars collide with each other and Piercarlo Ghinzani, on Ligier, also ends up off the track due to a suspension failure. The start has to be repeated and Nelson Piquet maintains the first position, while his teammate, Nigel Mansell, is struggling with a technical problem and gets off to a slow start. 


Gerhard Berger, who also got off badly, suddenly tries to pass the Williams, mistiming his attack and creating a series of chain crashes between the single-seaters behind him. Eddie Cheever hits Riccardo Patrese, who in turn is hit by Stefan Johansson. The latter is rear-ended by Martin Brundle. Further behind, Piercarlo Ghinzani's car, forced to brake (and already with a compromised suspension) is hit by the cars of Alex Caffi and Ivan Capelli, who in turn are rear-ended by Philippe Alliot, Christian Danner and Philippe Streiff. Finally, Pascal Fabre hits Jonathan Palmer's Tyrrell from behind. The track is impassable, and the race is stopped for the second time. Fortunately, all the damaged cars are able to take part in the third start, with only Philippe Streiff forced to retire, and Christian Danner, Martin Brundle, Alex Caffi and Pascal Fabre forced to start from the pit lane. On the formation lap, however, Alain Prost's car shuts down and the mechanics are unable to restart it. Therefore, the Frenchman is forced to take the reserve car and join the queue in the pit lane. At the end of the formation lap, the Frenchman is also joined by Michele Alboreto, who has returned to the pits to repair the steering, and so there will be six cars starting from the pit lane. Once again there is a problem, with Ayrton Senna making a slow start: fortunately, all the drivers manage to avoid the Brazilian, and Nelson Piquet takes first place, ahead of Thierry Boutsen, Gerhard Berger, Nigel Mansell and Teo Fabi. At the back of the pack, Ayrton Senna, Michele Alboreto and Alain Prost must temporarily settle for fighting for the last positions. Then Gerhard Berger is forced to retire with a turbo fault after only a few laps after the restart. This leaves the two Williams drivers in complete control of the race and the fight for the win, with Teo Fabi third but too far behind to re-enter the fight. 


On lap 21, Nigel Mansell overtakes his teammate, taking advantage of the lapping they both have to do. Once he takes the lead, Nigel Mansell is adept at maintaining it even during the pit stops. The top three positions are consolidated, so the only fight on track that can be seen is at the back, where Ayrton Senna and Michele Alboreto fight for points. The two soon collide and Ayrton Senna is forced to stop to change the front wing. The Brazilian drops out of the points zone after the stop but manages to gain positions when Michele Alboreto retires with a silencer problem and Alain Prost is slowed by a similar trouble. Nigel Mansell maintains the lead until the end and wins the Austrian Grand Prix. The British driver is followed to the finish line by Nelson Piquet, Teo Fabi, Thierry Boutsen, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Three starts and an impressive series of crashes did not stop Williams in the Austrian Grand Prix. Fifth consecutive victory for the British team (sixth of the season) and fourth win for Nigel Mansell ahead of his teammate Nelson Piquet. Another disappointment for Ferrari with the double retirement of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto. The Maranello cars grew in performance but were still lacking in reliability. The umpteenth bitterness was mitigated in part by Teo Fabi, third with the Benetton at the end of a very tight and nervous race. And how could the drivers not have frayed nerves after repeating the start three times and wrecking at least a dozen cars in the spectacular and risky accidents that had interrupted the start of the race twice? They are not made of steel either. Formula One had experienced similar moments in the past, sometimes ending in tragedy. Recall the death of Ronnie Peterson at Monza in 1978. Fortunately, only the cars were damaged. But risk and thrills dominated the day. The first accident was caused by Martin Brundle's Zakspeed. While the cars in the front rows got off to a perfect start (with Fabi leaping from fifth place behind Nelson Piquet), at the back of the pack the German single-seater began to skid. The Englishman explains:


"A shock absorber must have broken, and the car swerved without me being able to control it".


The Zakspeed first ended up on the left side of the narrow track, then crossed the track in reverse. The drivers following Brundle threw themselves everywhere. In the pile-up were involved the two Tyrrells, stuck between them, Campos' Minardi and Arnoux's Ligier, the latter ending up in the grass. Pieces flew into the air, a chilling noise and a lot of fear. But it was nothing compared to what would happen 40 minutes later, at the second start, given again with all 26 cars on the grid (the mechanics had repaired some single-seaters, others were the spare ones). This time the accident was triggered by Mansell. The Englishman's Williams, on the front row, got off to a slow start:


"I had difficulty with the clutch, the gear lever, in second gear, went back".


Next to the Williams passed Senna and Alboreto, inches away from the collision. Patrese, to avoid colliding, squeezed to the outside, closing the way to Cheever. Then it was a succession of collisions, and it has to be said that the current cars are well built, as not a single flame was seen. Eleven ended up in the pile-up. In addition to Patrese and Cheever, in no particular order, Fabre, Streiff, Alliot, Johansson, Ghinzani, Danner, Capelli, Caffi and, by a hair's breadth, Arnoux. Damage for Senna as well, who broke an axle shaft and had to take the spare car. Another 50-minute stop. Pale faces, intertwined conversations, whispers and shouts. With a quip from Nannini, unscathed like his car by a miracle:


"At this point, if my mum has seen everything on TV, she has already made three or four jams".


Ghinzani was also witty:


"I slowed down to avoid ending up on the wreckage on the track and they all ran wildly into me".


You have to know that the start is the most difficult moment in a Grand Prix. The cars are eight metres apart, in two parallel rows. With so much power in the engines, clutches and shafts can give out suddenly. And problems such as an engine stalling or an electrical fault are not excluded. Drivers are forced to push hard on the gas because an unjustified slowdown can result in a pile-up. And normally just a few hundred metres away there is a turn or, as in the case of Zeltweg, a narrow chicane. But are these accidents caused by the recklessness of the drivers or by the inadequacy of the regulations? The racers obviously point to the second hypothesis. And Alboreto, with the support of Prost and many other drivers, even told Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA. The Italian driver grabbed Balestre by the collar and shouted at him:


"When will you learn to do your job?"


Balestre first replied harshly, talking about withdrawing his licence. Then he put it down to a joke:


"I'd better stay at home, I'm on leave from heaven. Drivers don't know how to use their heads anyway".


He was referring to the heart attack that struck him last year, for which he considers himself a survivor. But it is certain that his work in recent times, with the powers delegated to Ecclestone, has not been concrete. Alboreto replies:


"We had asked for interventions circuit by circuit. At Zeltweg they had to remove the embankments, resurface the asphalt and widen the line-up by a few metres per car. They told us that nothing could be changed for economic reasons. What do we have to do to make ourselves heard: pay with our skin?"


Anyway, Nigel Mansell promptly responded to Nelson Piquet. Victory for the Brazilian in Germany and Hungary, success for the Englishman in Austria. In the championship standings, the two-time World Champion maintains a 15-point lead over his opponent-teammate. But the figures are quite liar, as with the gap game the situation at the end of the championship could be more favourable to the pursuer than to the one pursued. Nelson Piquet already has eight results under his belt (eleven can be added up) out of ten races run and when he has to discard points, he will have to discard second places, while Mansell only has six accumulated points and will be able to discard a sixth and a fifth, not to mention that he already has four heavy victories against his rival's two. In any case, the Austrian Grand Prix, plagued by accidents at the start, further clarified ideas and made it clear that only a miracle could revive Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. The Frenchman finished sixth after starting in the last positions due to a problem with the battery of his McLaren, while the Brazilian was eliminated in an attempt to overtake Michele Alboreto's Ferrari when he was already cut out of the fight for the first two places. The race was - as it has been said - nervous and also quite balanced, at least in the initial part, where the surprising Benettons for a few laps gave the impression that they could put the Williams in trouble. Ferrari, on the other hand, was once again the classic flash in the pan. Gerhard Berger, who started in third position behind Nelson Piquet and an aggressive Thierry Boutsen, made practically only one appearance. The engine of the Maranello car did not last more than five laps: on the third lap the Austrian was already overtaken by a Nigel Mansell who was strangely cautious at the start and on the fifth he sadly walked back to the pits. Michele Alboreto even had to start from the pit line behind Alain Prost, who had stopped on the grid due to an electrical problem.


"On the formation lap I realised that the steering wheel was not secured properly. I could have gone on the grid anyway and then raised my arm to repeat the start. But it seemed excessive after what had happened".


So Michele was forced into a long chase. The chase ended on lap 21, when the pit stops began. The first to pit was Nelson Piquet, who had already been overtaken by Nigel Mansell. The Briton's overtaking move was an act of strength: while Nelson Piquet was queuing up two lapped drivers, Satoru Nakajima, who had been lagging behind from the start, and Thierry Boutsen, who had stopped for a gearbox problem and was attempting a recovery, Nigel Mansell slipped into a few metres of space passing on the inside, ahead of the Brazilian's Williams, who immediately took his foot off the accelerator, quickly losing many seconds. A defeatist tactic. Behind the two, as we were saying, was Michele Alboreto, who was then forced to stop for a few laps to change his now deteriorated tyres. As he came back out onto the track it became clear that the Ferrari was no longer able to keep up the pace. And, as a matter of fact, Michele Alboreto was effortlessly overtaken by Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, who had gone back on track. The Brazilian driver of Lotus, however, had to change tyres and restarted from far back, until he found himself once again behind Michele Alboreto. It is not known exactly what happened, there are only the explanations of the two drivers: the fact is that on lap 35 Ayrton Senna also had to change the nose of his Lotus. Michele Alboreto, however, did not get far. A crack in the turbo manifold limited the engine's power and little by little it widened until it completely took away Ferrari's competitiveness. And while Nigel Mansell went on to win, with Nelson Piquet in the role of squire, little Teo Fabi went on to claim a brilliant third place. Little satisfaction for the Italians. Apart from the placing of Ivan Capelli, who finally won the internal race among the cars with naturally aspirated engines, the other Italian racers did not go far. Riccardo Patrese fought like a lion as usual, even in the first places, but the engine betrayed him. Andrea De Cesaris ended up on the grass with the Brabham's engine in pieces after the gearbox had also failed. Alessandro Nannini had already retired after one lap with a smoking engine. Alex Caffi with the spare Osella had abandoned on the formation lap. The race was tough, difficult, dangerous. But Nigel Mansell took a big risk, even after arriving at the finish, when he had to step up onto the podium. The English driver, hoisted into the truck that had brought the first three drivers along the track for the customary lap of honour, did not realise that he was crossing a kind of metal bridge. As he waved to people with one hand, and in the other his helmet. Mansell head-butted violently into a metal crossbar. The British racer collapsed on his legs and remained as if unconscious for about ten seconds. Nelson Piquet, his friend-enemy who was next to him, suddenly found him in his arms and did not know what to do. Teo Fabi, who was on his left, intervened. Quick thinking, the Italian took a bottle of mineral water and poured it over the winner's head. Then, in the press room, the Englishman told what had happened:


"What a head-butt: that's all I needed. Good thing I hit my head while getting on the podium. If I had also been defeated, it would have been an atrocious mockery. As for the race, I was able to control it quite easily. I was making my reference on Piquet, that's obvious. When he stopped in the pits to change his tyres, I waited another three laps and pitted as well. After that I was able to overtake quite easily".


Mansell says that otherwise his race was quite easy, although he had some problems with the clutch, the same ones that had triggered the incident at the second start.


"Our car is always perfect, which makes it easy to win. I did not want to use the spare car because I had the set-up prepared for my Brazilian friend. Maybe in the last three races of the season we will have two cars each. Anyway, I think I had a good race: I was cautious at the start so as not to wear out the tyres and petrol. Then I went on the attack. Beating Nelson is always a joy because he is a smart and fast driver".


As for the World Championship, the Englishman is very cautious:


"I hope to catch him at the end of the season, but it will be a desperate effort. The advantage allows Piquet to administer his races well. But it won't be so easy for him. For the meantime, I gave him a nice birthday present".


Nelson Piquet is celebrating his 35th birthday. And for the moment he seems satisfied with the second place he got in Austria.


"I had decided to run a careful race, not to take any risks. There were serious problems with fuel consumption. Therefore, I had chosen to give up exceptional performance in favour of remarkable reliability. Basically, I hadn't weakened the carburation and Mansell's car was a little faster than mine. When he overtook me, I tried to keep up his pace, but it was not possible. I am happy with this second place, which in this type of race suits me. But I know very well that in the future I will have to look for more victories. A moment's rest, and then it will be time to start again. The challenge will continue at Monza".


Ending up on the podium together with the two Williams drivers was also Fabi, after a fast that lasted more than three years. The Milanese driver said he was happy, but he could even have achieved a better result, perhaps even attacking Piquet for second position, had it not been for a strange misunderstanding in the pits at the time of the tyre change:


"When I came in, I saw the man in charge of signalling the exact spot where I had to stop, in the distance. After a moment he disappeared and I, in the hustle and bustle, no longer knew where to stop the car".


The misunderstanding in the Benetton pits was later cleared up: while Fabi was entering, Senna's car was also leaving. And the man in charge of signalling had to rush back into the garage to avoid being run over by the Brazilian's Lotus. Yet another double retirement for Ferrari, yet another disappointment. By now we are used to this situation, even if the progress made in practice makes the actual result more bitter. Michele Alboreto retired due to a broken turbo manifold, Gerhard Berger, almost immediately, due to engine failure. The Austrian driver says:


"Too bad, after three laps I already had problems. I could have had a good race, in front of my public, who were really looking forward to it. I could have finished second, I think, I would have put a Ferrari back on the podium. The Williams are still uncatchable but we are progressing from race to race".


Much longer the talk with Michele Alboreto, touching on several topics. Regarding the race and Ferrari:


"The car was going really well; I was delighted with it. I'm convinced I could even have won. Or at least I would have put the Williams cars to the whip, which for some time now have always been able to have easy races without much effort from their opponents. Instead, the same mishap that had already stopped me on Friday during practice was bound to happen again".


Then the fierce controversy with Ayrton Senna. A match that has been going on for some time now, living on almost daily episodes. There had already been friction between the two drivers in the past, revived by an episode that happened at Hockenheim when Senna, with a risky manoeuvre during the race, had thrown the Ferrari of the Milanese driver onto the grass, at 300 km/h, risking a very dangerous accident. On Friday Alboreto, after yet another slight by the Brazilian, had acted harshly: during practice, while the Lotus was about to overtake him, he had put himself in a defensive position and had stuck his rear wheel between the two of Ayrton Senna's car. An unfair but significant action to make the other driver understand that he should no longer behave in a certain way. In the evening there had been an attempt at reconciliation; Senna had gone to the Ferrari van to try to settle the dispute with Alboreto. Michele had accepted the explanations but had not promised anything towards Ayrton, whom he considered very unfair. Then, during the race, Ayrton Senna was faster than the Ferrari and tried to pass Michele Alboreto. But the Italian driver first zigzagged and then braked lightly near a turn, where he should not have braked, and the Lotus rear-ended the Maranello car:


"I don't like to behave like this, but you have to teach these people a lesson. If you want to compete with bandits, you have to give them a taste of their own medicine. If Senna creates trouble, he will always find it. I hope now the lesson has served him well. At Hockenheim he almost ran me off the road at 300 km/h and that was the last straw. So I tried to make him understand that if it's brawling he's after, he's met his match". 


Of course, the Brazilian was not slow to reply:


"I don't understand Michele's behaviour. After the Bosch corner he started to go from one side of the track to the other to prevent me from passing. Then in the following straight he continued to maintain an abnormal trajectory and in the next corner he braked unexpectedly. He closed on me, and I bumped into him. My car lost its right front wing and then I crashed into some tyre guards, without any serious damage. The marshals pushed me away and I had to return to the pits to change the nose. I thought I had cleared everything up, instead we are back to square one". 


For Marco Piccinini, Ferrari's sporting director, the matter became serious: 


"Senna asked to speak to Michele the other night and they discussed for ten minutes. I believe that a reasonable solution can be found, with a confrontation in words and not with facts on the track. It's too dangerous for both of them".


Saturday's practice had not changed one iota the starting grid determined on Friday in the first qualifying session. Speaking of Ferrari, the Maranello team's programme includes a private test session at Imola. In any case, almost all the teams will take part in the tests ahead of Monza. The official debut of a new Italian Formula 1 team is scheduled for Tuesday, 18th August 1987. It is the Coloni with an aspirated Ford 3500 engine, driven by Nicola Larini. Debut at Magione and then a trip to Imola for the first confrontation with future rivals. With Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in crisis, Ferrari always unreliable, the Formula One World Championship became a private affair in the Williams household, between Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell. The challenge between the Brazilian and the Englishman has become the dominant motif of the championship and will probably keep the attention high until the end of the season. Nelson is still firmly at the top of the standings with a 15-point lead, but Nigel Mansell with four wins under his belt has a good chance of making life difficult for his teammate. Ferrari, however, also continues to be the focus of interest. While other names come to the fore (watch out for the Benettons of Teo Fabi and Thierry Boutsen), the team from Maranello is engaged in a recovery already achieved in terms of competitiveness of the cars, but still made vain by the lack of results. This is why Scuderia Ferrari is speeding things up. Important tests will take place at Imola from Wednesday 26th to Thursday 27th. A general test in anticipation of the Italian Grand Prix, which will take place as always at Monza. A goal that Ferrari can no longer miss.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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