#452 1987 Australian Grand Prix

2023-01-06 12:48

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#1987, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Margherita Schiatti,

#452 1987 Australian Grand Prix

Michele Alboreto would have wanted to come back home to see his little Alice, born while the Italian driver was in Mexico. But he chose to avoid the s


Michele Alboreto would have wanted to come back home to see his little Alice, born while the Italian driver was in Mexico. But he chose to avoid the stress of the trip and travelled straight from Japan to Australia, where on Sunday, November 15, 1987, the 1987 Formula 1 season will come to an end, to rest for a couple of days. 


"I really needed that, I am tired and want to collect my thoughts. The fourth place in Suzuka was a boost of confidence, it was energising. But this time I feel the need for some real restorative therapy, with brilliant results, perhaps with some wins. I have had a streak of bad luck for a long time, I think I am even now. If it is true that I have given a lot, from now on I should receive a lot". 


Michele is experiencing a profound crisis. It is not only a complex of inferiority toward his teammate, Gerhard Berger, who has proved to be, apparently at least, faster, better and more aggressive over the season. The reasons are psychological, not technical or agonistic. 


"There is data, numbers that speak for themselves. Gerhard is extremely fast, one of the best in qualifying. But I was ahead of him for four races. What does this mean, apart from when he could have had troubles on a few occasions? That I can keep up with him. I feel especially on par with him during the race. Maybe after all these years, I am not able to take certain risks anymore, maybe I never took them, although I reached my limit and the car’s limit several times. The difference is there, even on the single lap, it can be some tenths but not over a second as has been happening recently. It means that something is not working, that the mechanism is jammed". 


Are there any valid assumptions?


"Maybe yes. I suffered a lot during the first half of the season when Barnard was on track. I felt neglected and isolated. It was a difficult situation, I could not fathom it given that I never had issues with the British technician. Rather, I was happy about his arrival in Maranello, hoping that he could solve our problems. It was a big disappointment, a riddle I could not solve, one that kept me up at night". 


And then what happened?


"In the meanwhile, I had to face other negative factors. The failures, the constant retirements, the disillusionment. And the subconscious concern maybe, that was still there, that I had about my family and becoming a father. If you add all of it up together you can see how delicate my situation was".


And now is the negative moment over?


"I hope so. The fourth place in Suzuka should have broken the spell, although I still had to encounter some drawbacks there too. The clutch was stuck at the start, and that never happened to me, I was always one of the fastest off the line, then the exhaust pipe broke after fifteen laps. I had to improvise a chase with damage on my car and I even risked going out like a fool during an overtake when Nannini, without realising it, closed my trajectory and I had a spin". 


What is next for Michele Alboreto?


"I do not dare to make any predictions, out of superstition. But I honestly think I have the chance to end the championship on a good note in Adelaide. On that track I never stood out, last year I even had an accident. But I have a good feeling when we race on street circuits. In fact, out of my five wins, two of them were in Las Vegas and Detroit, with cars that were not competitive. I would like to end the season this way, at least with a podium. A higher step to start off 1988 together with Ferrari for a year full of satisfaction".  


A promise, maybe a wish? Surely, for Michele Alboreto a positive result is a must. Otherwise, next year, even if the two drivers of the Maranello team are considered equal, he will have to deal with Gerhard Berger as the leader. And he does not deserve it. In the meantime, with the Australian Grand Prix will come to an end a World Championship that only apparently has revealed all of its secrets: Williams dominating the season, Nelson Piquet first among the drivers, maybe thanks to a good dose of luck, but also due to his consistency in performing at a higher level, playing the role of a Niki Lauda with Brazilian temperament. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that the last race of the year, number sixteen, is to be taken for granted, without reasons of interest. Especially the Scuderia Ferrari win in Japan makes the final race more thrilling, something that probably was missing in previous races where everything revolved around the Piquet-Mansell duel. Now that the absence of the British driver is confirmed, it is yet to be seen what Honda’s reaction after the burning defeat they suffered at home, on the Suzuka circuit, will be. The Japanese, behind their usual British-style Fairplay, have hardly swallowed the defeat and they have announced their intention to get payback, betting on Williams and Ayrton Senna’s Lotus who has proved to do well on street tracks. The Adelaide circuit, in the last two races, has proved to be very picky and, all in all, surprising, with Keke Rosberg’s win in 1985 and the even more unexpected win by Alain Prost last year, and it has shown that everything can happen on a track with such specific characteristics. But the obvious question is the following: will the Scuderia Ferrari be able to repeat their feat and win? Are we really at the beginning of a new era for Ferrari? Everything suggests that Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto will be able to fight for first place but a disappointment could curb the enthusiasm. For this reason, the race will have a special importance, like an exam, a confirmation of the progress made that can be projected into the near future, that is to say on the championship that will begin in the first days of April 1988, in Brazil. Michele Alboreto says: 


"On paper, there is no reason why we should take a step backwards. Even if our rivals, with which we touched a nerve, will do everything in their power to prevent us from repeating the Japanese result". 


The Italian driver does not wish to make any predictions. But it is clear that the Australian Grand Prix will be an authentic moment of truth, especially for him. As a matter of fact, another statement by Gerhard Berger puts Alboreto in an inferior condition compared to his teammate, who is now considered to be the rising star of Formula 1. The Alboreto-Berger challenge, always respectful of any possible team play, becomes the driving moment of this season finale, part of a bigger picture that has to do with the Italian driving academy. Do not forget that for a long time, despite a considerable presence, Italian drivers were subjected to their foreign rivals’ superiority. In this context, there is the possible debut by Riccardo Patrese, driving the second Williams, standing in for Mansell who is injured. If the complex move of the Italian driver from Brabham to the current World Champion team is confirmed, Ferrari will have another rival in front of them. Michele Alboreto declares:


"Patrese is an extremely experienced driver who will certainly be up there fighting with his due to his experience and his desire to do well. We will have to take that into consideration, just like we will have to deal with Senna and Prost who will mount a fierce defence to end the championship with a strong affirmation to forget the burning delusion in the World Championship fight".  


In conclusion, a race that appears to have all it takes to put on a great show. Without forgetting that another win for Ferrari would act as a great springboard for next year. Nevertheless, the serenity at Ferrari only lasted a few days after the great win in Japan. It is once again John Barnard, technical director at the Maranello team, who breaks the spell. This time the British designer did not grant an interview with the prestigious Sunday Times, but he made some inflammatory remarks on Autosprint, a weekly Italian sports magazine. A sterile and sharp controversy by Barnard, who suggests that inside Ferrari is a team corroded by jealousy and riddled with intrigues. In short, the designer, speaking from his Guildford office, arrogates to himself the merits of the recent win by Berger in Suzuka, leaving to his colleagues only a marginal part. Barnard said that Postethwaite only made some finishing touches and he expected the positive results. 


Moreover, he revealed that the car with the naturally aspirated engine will be entirely designed and made in England, apart from the engine, the gearbox and componentry, denying, among other things, previous clarifications by Marco Piccinini. This Barnard is truly an ineffable fellow. He hates dealing with Italian journalists but when he decides to speak, he does so without problems. A few months ago he had disavowed the paternity of the single-seater currently used in races, the F1-87, and now he practically claims he entirely re-made it, while Ferrari officially confirms that he only worked on the suspensions and that the car comes from a project by Gustav Brunner, then revisited by Postlethwaite. Ferrari’s reaction, preparing in Adelaide for the Australian Grand Prix, is extremely cautious. 

Tuesday, November 10, 1987, Marco Piccinini declares: 


"We are not interested in interviews, we can read them later, this one and others, in Maranello. There is only one person who can judge the merits and demerits: his name is Enzo Ferrari. And he will make his judgements known at the end of the championship. The only thing I can personally point out is that defeat is an orphan while victories often have a hundred fathers". 


It is a strong position taken in order to avoid worsening the relationship with the British designer. As you can recall, from the month of July John Barnard has not been on track, as he was in charge of designing the car for 1988 in Guildford. The decision made it look like it was a necessity in order to comply with the schedule, though it could have been interpreted in a way as a punishment by Ferrari. But how are Barnard-Ferrari relations? The Modena-based constructor had maybe made a mistake in facing certain innovations that were needed to give a boost to the team: too much power, and too much relevance given to the new recruit from McLaren with an excessive price (and not only on an economic level but also and especially in terms of the status of Ferrari itself). Now it seems that Enzo Ferrari is resizing the situation, scaling down the figure of the British designer. It is not an easy task, as Barnard has the immediate future of the Scuderia Ferrari in his hands, given that he has to design the car with a naturally aspirated engine. His talent, given the results and until proven otherwise, cannot be contested, at least until the end of his three-year contract signed by both parties. But if Barnard carries on with his interferences and driving wedges (it also seems that there was a dispute with Postlethwaite over making the debut of the turbo car or the one with the aspirated engine at the beginning of the 1988 championship), it cannot be excluded that Ferrari will take some shocking decisions. It would not be the first time that Enzo Ferrari, disappointed or annoyed by certain individuals, whether right or wrong, drivers or engineers, abruptly got rid of them. At the moment a divorce is not in sight, but a termination of the contract before its natural end would not be a surprise. John Barnard perhaps has not understood yet that the almost ninety-year-old Enzo Ferrari is still a man who believes that facts speak louder than words. The win by Scuderia Ferrari has generated newfound enthusiasm. In Australia, the Grand Prix frenzy is extremely high. Radio, television, and newspapers are constantly promoting the event and of course, the return to success of the Maranello team has become the main reason, seeing as the fight for the World Championship ended in advance. But there are other reasons to wind up the Tifosi. Wednesday, November 11, 1987, Riccardo Patrese, while he is still in Sydney, finds out that he will drive for Williams. The news was already known but it was not certain. 


"I am happy. Hopefully, we are on an upward trajectory now. I like the track; I hope I will get a good result but it will not be easy. I will probably have to fight with Ferrari, with some emotion but without any reverential fear. If I get the chance, I will try to beat them, as I would do with any other". 


The empty seat left by Riccardo Patrese at Brabham will be occupied by another Italian driver. Bernie Ecclestone, with the help of a sponsor (Marlboro), calls Stefano Modena, who recently won the Formula 3000 Championship. This is a significant opportunity for the Italian driver, although it seems risky to have him make his debut in a car he has never driven, on a track he has never seen. But these are the rules of the game, and the young driver deserves a fairer shot. 


"I am in Adelaide only to learn. I am also sorry to have created all of this interest because I don’t like distractions or being bothered. When working, I prefer being focused and thinking about giving it all. I don’t have hobbies; I only like cars. When I am not racing, or watching TV or in the garage, it means that I am travelling from one track to another". 


The ideas are clear. But making a debut like this is already a big risk without ever having tried the Brabham…


"It is an opportunity for me. I want to take my chance. Some time ago I was not aiming at Formula 1, I thought I would have accepted a proposal only if it came from a good team. Now though I know that it is not an illusion, a one-off. My current team, Onyx, with which I won the Formula 3000 Championship next year, will debut in the World Championship. Maybe not from the beginning but certainly throughout the season. I have full confidence in this plan". 


And the parallel with Ayrton Senna?


"He was my hero but I am Stefano Modena, I am Italian. I don’t want to make these types of comparisons. I am confident in my abilities, and I consider myself to be good enough, I am ready to sell my soul and body to the Devil to get there".


He does not lack presumption but that can be a gift if he can walk the talk. And this is the first opportunity to prove it. Also because Stefano Modena has Enzo Ferrari’s eyes set on him and in a few years he could land in Maranello. Instead, Stefano Modena’s future at Brabham does not seem so bright: Bernie Ecclestone, head of the British team, says that he still looking for solutions for 1988. As a matter of fact, he cannot find a good engine supplier. The manager suggests that if he cannot solve the issue he will have to retire the team for a year, only to come back in 1989 (it seems with Renault engines but there could be some surprises). For twelve months, then, one of the most prestigious teams that has won four World Drivers' Championships and two World Constructors' Championships, and that has won 35 races could leave from the scene. Brabham made its debut in 1962 in Germany, driven by Jack Brabham himself, already a two-time World Champion, who had won his third title in 1966 with a car having his own name. Now Sir Jack Brabham has gone back to living in Australia (but two of his sons are racing cars in Britain and the United States) and to his chagrin, he will see the team he had founded and later sold to Bernie Ecclestone disappear, hopefully only for a year. The fact that this situation sees the powerful president of FOCA at its center can give an idea of how difficult it is today to manage a team and above all to find competitive engines. 


Formula 1 will end its season in Australia but it is thinking ahead to the next championship. Since everything has already been decided, the race should only have a platonic value. But it won’t: teams are getting ready for 1988, trying to solve at least partially the issues that may arise during the period of inactivity. The first issue is going to be deciding between turbo and naturally aspirated engines. A problem that, as it seems, mainly concerns Ferrari, given that teams using Honda engines seem, at least apparently and except for last-minute surprises, to have kept their forced induction systems. In this context, Ferrari will try to make comparative tests between the current updated car (modified 2.5 bar pressure engine, lower chassis and maybe even new aerodynamics) and the one John Barnard is working on in Guildford. But it seems clear now that we will have to wait for most of the World Championship to see the car designed by the British engineer. The question marks over the engines do not concern Williams that, betrayed by Honda, will have the naturally aspirated Judd. Formula 1 is about to end its season far from what can be considered its true home, Europe. In the name of making this sport-show universal and involving various interests, the championship comes to an end poles apart, in Australia, extremely far away. Nine hours and a half apart in terms of time difference, meaning that those who wish to follow the live TV coverage will have to watch at 4.30 a.m. in Europe. However things may end, anyway, the recurring themes of the sixteenth and last race have already been laid out. 


There is Ferrari, looking forward to confirming the result obtained in Japan, who will be the car to beat, while the season favourites, that is to say, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna become the outsiders. But it is influenced by the characteristics of an especially particular track, half street circuit and half permanent circuits, where the risk of having a crash is raised to the nth degree. It is exactly the dominant element of the prediction, that is to say, a possible surprise. Besides, it is what happened last year when Alain Prost himself won the title at the expense of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell who even had the chance to score an easy win. With the championship fight over, then, predictions become more uncertain and dependent on luck. And this is what can spice up the race in Adelaide. But if we stick to the first day of qualifying, it should be Gerhard Berger becoming the leader, the benchmark for those aiming for first place. Friday, November 13, 1987, the Austrian shows his skills over a single lap once again. The Ferrari driver made an excellent exploit: fastest lap in 1’17”276, averaging a speed of 178.267 km/h, shattering the track record (the previous one belonged to Nigel Mansell, who is now absent, set last year in 1’18”403). He sets it on the last attempt when maybe no one was expecting such a feat. As a matter of fact, Gerhard Berger surprises everyone, also because of how he was able to be the fastest. The Austrian is bothered by a fever and an annoying sore throat, yet he was able to pull off an incredible lap, among other things with a risky overtake on Jonathan Palmer's Tyrrell: he ended up with the wheels on the grass, skidding. He was within an inch of going off track. 


"I could have done much better. And the car was not even perfect because of a bit of understeer and the engine, of which the response time could be further reduced". 


Imagine if everything had gone smoothly. Keep in mind that the opponents attempted the impossible not to be overtaken. So much so that Alain Prost spun twice and that Nelson Piquet too, in the final laps, could not avoid the risk of going off track which ended without damage only by a few centimetres. Few drivers did not make any mistakes, including Michele Alboreto, whose car ended up on an oil spill and spun out in the middle of the track, in what was his best lap, leaving the Italian driver in fifth place. His teammate Nelson Piquet, then Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna came before him. It is up to the drivers then and their tactical reliability in a very complicated race, also on a physical level where single-seaters will be under immense strain with some particularly fragile components such as the brakes and the gearbox. 

In fact, while a win is easily within reach for turbo-engined cars, it will not be a shock if cars with naturally aspirated engines do well, finishing in the points. Anyhow, for the team from Maranello, this is a good opportunity to bag some good points: the win in Japan saved face, and a second success could not only make the 1988 season results acceptable, but they could be a positive sign heading onto the next season. Cinderella has turned into a beautiful Princess. Now everyone is worried about her and tries to become friends. Alain Prost says at the end of free practice:


"Ferrari is on the right track. I knew that they would put an end to our dreams of glory. I was hoping to end the championship with another win, just to end the McLaren-Porsche era and to baptise the new McLaren-Honda. Instead, here I am fighting with a team that has been resurrected and with Berger who is growing from race to race".


The Frenchman is not joking, although after all he still is one of the favourites to win. Michele Alboreto did not shine either as he is a second off his teammate. His downturn is not over yet, and he needs an important result.  


"I could not do a good lap. There was horrible traffic on track, the car was going sideways maybe due to a setup that was not right for the rear of the car, and in the end a spin on an oil spill. There is no defence this way. I have some hope mostly for the race, but honestly, I cannot wait to start over next year after the winter break". 


The championship is taking its toll on Nelson Piquet as well. For the Brazilian it is time to leave Williams, heading to Lotus. Nelson is joking around but he would like to end on a high note if only Ferrari was not there to torment him.


"They are fully motivated to bag as many points as possible in this doubleheader. I do not miss them, but it is clear that in the team too there is not that tension anymore that is needed to go all in. It is like eating after a big feast. In Maranello, instead, there is great hunger". 


It is a concept with which Ayrton Senna agrees, accused by Lotus of no longer being the same driver as he was at the beginning of the season.


"With Ferrari being this strong, our chances are slimmer".


Then there are others who are not thinking about Ferrari. Riccardo Patrese, eight with Nigel Mansell’s Williams clearly affirms:


"It is a fight against myself. I am driving a new car, and I am experiencing some technical difficulties, especially with the gearbox. But I will have no regard for anyone if I have the chance". 


Further away is the rookie Stefano Modena. Far but with some thoughts because the fifteenth time obtained with Brabham is not bad, considering the conditions of his debut. This young Italian with such a promising name is rather a strange character. They said he was difficult and insufferable. In fact, he is a peculiar guy. Free practice on Fridays ends at 2:10 p.m. and at 5:00 p.m. he is still sitting inside the car. It is hard to talk to him and get his impressions. A mysterious object who immediately became a prominent character as were Niki Lauda and Gilles Villenueve at their times. But perhaps he is exaggerating he still needs to prove he is that good. Saturday, November 14, 1987, the last pole position of the 1987 season, at the Australian Grand Prix takes the name of an emerging duo, that of Ferrari-Berger. Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet and the other competitors gave it all trying to take away this satisfaction from the Austrian driver and the team from Maranello, but to no avail. It may be that the Honda technicians have felt for the first time that they were really missing a driver like Nigel Mansell, who was injured in Japan and had to stay home. No one can catch Gerhard Berger, who for the third time since the beginning of the season (before it was in Portugal and Suzuka) will start from pole position. He did not even need to improve the record time set during practice on Friday. The track conditions worsened due to the wave of summer heat that suddenly hit the South of Australia. So much so that the only drivers who are through (14 out of 27) are those who during the first round of qualifying did not push to the maximum. While Berger, still feverish as he was coming down with heavy flu, was there watching. The Frenchman still manages to get ahead of the Brazilian to reach the first row. Meanwhile, Thierry Boutsen with Benetton is ahead of Michele Alboreto, Riccardo Patrese gains a position and the rookie Stefano Modena laps around a second less on a lap. Still, Modena does not move from the fifteenth position after breaking the first engine. For Michele Alboreto this is another complicated day. The Italian driver went back from fifth to sixth position. And in the end, he seems, as always this season, if not resigned, at least convinced that he is still haunted by bad luck:


"I was not able to have a clean lap. When I pushed to the limit first I found Prost going slowly, then the checkered flag at the end of practice that stopped me. I could finish at least in second row but lately it seems I am destined to struggle". 


It was yet another day of many cars going off track. Everybody was caught spinning, even the most talented, due to a track that was a bit slippery, and risks that drivers have to take to go fast as well as the strain put on brakes that are not always reliable. Still, the unluckiest was Giancarlo Minardi, owner of the team bearing his name. With a few minutes to the end, he asks his driver, Adrian Campos, to do a lap. 


"Slowly, please, just to test the engine".


A couple of kilometres later, the Spanish driver crashes into a wall. Result: the car is destroyed. A few hours to go before the last Grand Prix of the season, Marco Piccinini, sporting director at Ferrari, releases some statements. There are no breakthroughs, that is not his style nor that of Scuderia Ferrari. Rather, this is a job for Enzo Ferrari, who already made clear that at the end of the championship, he will make a judgement (on Barnard), thoughts, opinions and eventually taking some measures. And it seems that Enzo Ferrari has a very clear idea of the British designer. The first question is: what does Ferrari think about its own drivers?


"Alboreto went through quite a difficult period. Adding to the negative results in these last two years and the stress accumulated over many months devoid of satisfaction, he also had to bear the psychological weight of a complicated fatherhood. He never intended for everything to become public, but his daughter, little Alice, was born amid thousands of problems and worries. But we believe in him: he is a complete driver who rarely makes mistakes in the race and that is very profitable. In terms of raw speed, he is among the best".


And what about Berger? 


"We wanted to improve the team. We left Johansson because he struggled to perform at his best in qualifying as opposed to the race. And today, starting from the back of the grid, given the car’s possible performance means losing 20/30 seconds as well as half of the race. The Austrian is very fast and he only needs some experience. We have a great line-up who will work together starting from next year, maybe splitting up their tasks. Over the course of this season, Michele has had to take most of the burden, but now that Gerhard knows the team well he can share the burden. Anyhow, our drivers are the least of the problem". 


Then where do the problems lie?


"It is complicated to always perform at the highest level. Take Honda: they have huge potential. They only handle engines, and they have the best teams at their disposal. They can afford, with their budget, to make mistakes and start again from scratch. We cannot, we have to try and hit the mark from the start". 


Still, on Monday, November 23, 1987, Williams, without Honda, will already try the next naturally aspirated Judd engine…


"The bugbear for 1988 should not be Williams. They are good but they have no other alternative. We still have to decide. Rather, we fear McLaren who will have Japanese engines and two extraordinary drivers, Prost and Senna". 


But is your naturally aspirated twelve-cylinder engine that will go on Barnard’s car not ready yet?


"It is a long-term program because it will have to last for several years. This engine was designed before the arrival of the British designer. Now it is running on the test bench and we estimate that we will be able to do comparative tests between turbo and aspirated cars in January. Anyway, we will not be able to make the choice before the end of that month". 


Is it true that the new Ferrari will be built in Guildford?


"Down there we do not have the productive capacity needed. Many details will be built there, but we have no interest in creating a double of the study in Maranello in England. Ferrari cars are made in Maranello". 


What is next for Ferrari?


"We are developing the six-cylinder turbo engine as well as the car to the end of using 2.5 bars of pressure. We have to shape new aerodynamics and adapt the electronics. And then the solution of the automatic gearbox before active suspensions". 


Is Ferrari then on the right path to getting back to winning consistently?


"This Red sunset at the end of the championship is good but there is a lot to work on".


Sunday, November 15, 1987, even before the start of the Australian Grand Prix, in the first formation lap Gerhard Berger realises something is wrong with the engine. Therefore, he rushes into the pit lane and changes cars, taking the reserve one. A chilling start. The Austrian knows he has to watch out for Alain Prost, starting by his side in the first row, and Nelson Piquet who is behind him. He gets quite a good start and takes the line to hit back from an attack by the McLaren driver: but the gap on the right facilitates the task of the incredibly powerful Williams driven by the Brazilian who takes the lead. Gerhard Berger knows that if he lets Nelson Piquet take the initiative, his race will be over. Therefore, he comes back to the middle almost causing a crash. Their wheels almost touch and the two of them narrowly avoid an accident. Then Gerhard, in the second corner brakes later and overtakes the Williams with a risky move, leaving Nelson at a standstill. In this way, Ferrari number #28 after a couple hundred metres is in the lead. Behind him, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Michele Alboreto (quicker than Thierry Boutsen) and Riccardo Patrese follow. Michele Alboreto too knows that he has no time to spare. Meanwhile, Gerhard Berger immediately started lapping at a very high pace, gaining precious ground. Instead, Michele Alboreto, after a good overtake on Ayrton Senna was stuck behind the other drivers chasing Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost, two difficult clients to overtake. Behind, the others are cut out from the fight. It is an impressive train. A mistake by Alain Prost in a chicane, miraculously without consequences, then another by Thierry Boutsen while lapping Teo Fabi, already behind with a margin after a pit stop. A series of pit stops to change tyres creates widespread confusion. Goodyear (200 victories in F1) stated that theoretically changes were not going to be necessary. But on lap 35, before half of the race, Teo Fabi (twice), Andrea De Cesaris, the rookie Stefano Modena, Nelson Piquet, who seemed to be struggling, and his teammate, Riccardo Patrese had already stopped. 


But Ferrari knows their stuff because they had made precise calculations and it was established that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the two cars did not need to stop. In this way, Gerhard Berger setting one fast lap after another, collected, after Nelson Piquet slowed down, an advantage of over 18 seconds on Alain Prost who tried a spectacular comeback. But, at that point, lapped cars come into play, that is to say, cars with naturally aspirated engines that are slower. Before lap 42 comes a plot twist. An overtake by Alain Prost himself goes wrong and Michele Alboreto successfully attacks him. Both of them were not paying attention to Ayrton Senna, who in the meantime was hunting down Gerhard Berger, forcing the chase fast lap after fast lap. Nevertheless, Ferrari pushes back, tackling them head-on, and Gerhard Berger wins the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Ayrton Senna. Then, stewards notice that special brake ducts were put on the front brakes of Senna’s Lotus. After checks, it is determined that their dimensions are larger than allowed and the Brazilian gets inexorably disqualified. That promotes Michele Alboreto to second place, followed by Thierry Boutsen, Jonathan Palmer, Yannick Dalmas and Roberto Moreno. The Formula 1 World Championship and the Australian Grand Prix come to an end with an incredible mob forming outside the Ferrari garage. Italian flags and flags of the Maranello team waved in the air, chants, and enthusiastic shouts in a cheering spirit that can be compared to the World Cup. Two touching and spectacular hours have rewarded the men from Maranello, from the drivers to the technicians, from the managers to the mechanics, after many disappointments and regrets.


An incredibly sweet finish for Ferrari. With Gerhard Berger first once again and Michele Alboreto second. A second place that has come with the help of the stewards disqualifying Ayrton Senna with his Lotus for a technical irregularity but that is still a valid result that rewards, at least partly, the ambitions of the Italian driver. It is a vividly red sunset, then to the World Championship. Second consecutive success (number 93 of the Scuderia Ferrari) to confirm a comeback that started from afar. And you cannot help but look at the past. In 1973 Ferrari had a disastrous season: only 12 points were collected with the single-seaters driven by Merzario and Ickx. The following year came Niki Lauda and with him began one of the most intense and thrilling periods. Now, incidentally, the comeback is happening with another Austrian: Gerhard Berger, like his predecessor, in the first season with the Italian team who collected two resounding victories and heavily contributed to bringing Ferrari back to fighting at the top. A historical parallel. But maybe, even if Gerhard Berger can already be considered a potential champion (he had a beautiful race, flawless, and it was not an easy race), this time the merits should be equally shared among the men at Ferrari. And given that we are speaking in football terms, a good coach, Enzo Ferrari, was able to rebuild amid thousands of difficulties and controversies, a team to challenge for the championship. It is also the triumph of Made in Italy. Never mind that among the technicians are Postlethwaite who is British or His who is French. Isn’t the Argentinian Maradona in the winning Napoli? In every field and in sports too skill lies in picking the right line-up with the available resources. We are in the era of advanced technologies, composite materials and electronics: well, a Ferrari in first place would mean that it is the best in every field. It is not enough to be fast and to have a competitive engine: you need to brake well, not to consume too much fuel and to have effective aerodynamics. Take this quote from the sporting director of the team from Maranello, Marco Piccinini, at the beginning of the season: 


"I would rather win speaking in English than lose in Modenese". 


The Ferrari line-up, or better the one-two Berger-Alboreto corresponds to the first global defeat of cars with Honda engines. Since the beginning of the season, it had never happened that both Williams and Lotus were out of the points. Still, a fast and determined driver such as Nigel Mansell was indeed absent, as well as Ayrton Senna who came second only to then be disqualified. Even if it was not only the Japanese engines that betrayed Nelson Piquet, Riccardo Patrese and Satoru Nakajima, it cannot be denied that by bringing your rivals to the limit, you force them into taking risks and making mistakes. It is the right path, that of research, testing, and continuous comparison, devoid of any personalism. As for the driver line-up, Berger-Alboreto, the comparison is inevitable. And if the Italian wants to have a chance at fighting for the World Championship next season, he will need to take into consideration his extremely fast and ruthless teammate. The one-two finish for Ferrari at the Australian Grand Prix is celebrated by the Tifosi with cars parading in the streets of Maranello, only to end in a gathering of Ferrari Clubs from Modena in front of the gates of the Ferrari factory. The enthusiasm of the Tifosi is even higher than two weeks earlier when Gerhard Berger won, and Michele Alboreto came in fourth in Japan. The one-two finish is also celebrated with the church bells ringing. Bars and restaurants display Ferrari insignia. The joy of the mechanics, drivers and engineers. After so much suffering, at times in silence, embittered, for Ferrari the days of parties, toasts and smiles have come. Gerhard Berger, coming down with the flu he had on Friday and Saturday, gets out of the car exhausted from the effort but obviously happy. After the ritual of the podium, the Austrian has to sit down for a few minutes on a step, with his head down, to regain his strength. Then, in a faint voice, he says:


"It was a good race but very intense. The last twenty laps felt never-ending. The earplug in my right ear came off and I was hearing some horrible noises, it seemed like my engine was going to blow from one moment to the next. But maybe it was just my impression. Anyway, I thought I was not going to make it, it was a nightmare. I wanted to lead the race, therefore I had to make up for the powerful Honda engines with aggressive driving. At the start, I took a lot of risks. The hardest overtake? The one on Patrese. He kept me behind for more than a lap, even though he was lapped. I hope I can fight for the World Championship with Ferrari next year. Anyway, there are no problems with Alboreto. He is a top-driver and at the start of the season honestly, we were not really bonding. Now things are going really well, the atmosphere has improved in the last races. Our bodywork is really competitive but there is a lot of work to be done on the engine as Honda is still better in terms of power output to fuel consumption".


Michele Alboreto is called into question and he does not play hard to get:


"I am happy too. I would have liked to win but it just was not possible. I started from the back and I overheated the brakes from the start, then the fight with Prost was deadly and it prevented me from pushing in the second part of the race. My only regret is to have finished only a couple of races, it has been the hardest season since I started in Formula 1". 


Is it Barnard’s fault?


"Barnard is someone who works for the team, working hard toward a very important goal: the name of the British engineer seemed to linger in the Ferrari garage". 


But Harvey Postlethwaite does not give in to the provocation after his fellow countryman gave rise to the controversy.


"This is a wonderful day. There are some explanations to give. We were unsure about what solution to adopt. We chose to try two different ones. Berger’s car had less aerodynamic load, therefore it was faster in the straights. Instead, Alboreto’s car was stuck to the ground and that made the difference. We were a bit worried toward the end of the race due to the sparks next to Berger’s rear-right tyre: nothing serious, the bottom of the car touched the ground and at best there was a bit of oversteer". 


Did you discuss about strategy? 


"Yes. On Saturday night and in the morning we gave some clear instructions to the drivers. They knew what they had to do. With the telemetry system, we know exactly how to evaluate consumption, moment by moment. In this way, with signals for times and positions, we communicated with Gerhard and Michele about the electronic mappings to use, depending on the necessity. Everything went well". 


Marco Piccinini ends by saying:


"We had some hopes to repeat Japan but it was not easy. Williams dominated the season. But we have lived a positive season finale. In the end, we started again from the beginning, from below. We started far off and we are the team that, all in all, has had the most positive trend. We hope to continue like this". 


Then some space for jokes, without malice, only for small verbal revenge after having to swallow some bitter pills:


"Luckily cars do not read newspapers, they are not easily impressed". 


As always Enzo Ferrari calls, despite the hour. The manufacturer from Modena had watched the race on tv:  


"I congratulated everyone and extended some heartfelt thanks". 


The 1987 Formula 1 World Championship has ended its long journey. Eight months of races, tensions, moments to remember and moments to forget. Balancing the domination of Williams, the first World Championship won by Honda engines, and the third title of Nelson Piquet. It is unfortunate that there was no final fight between the Brazilian driver and Nigel Mansell as he was injured during free practice leading up to the Japanese Grand Prix. The Englishman was still the best driver of the season with six wins to his name. It was a complicated season, of transition, with turbo engines still at the centre and naturally aspirated engines that were not competitive yet. This technical matter split the races: on one side the big teams, on the other the smaller teams fighting for the Chapman and Clark trophies (won, as is known, by Tyrell and Jonathan Palmer). On a technical-competitive level, there were no big changes: Williams was the favourite and was in line with the predictions. Lotus had a meteoric rise as in the recent past, McLaren slightly declined and Benetton was not able to make a breakthrough that was within its reach. In the end, although it was expected, the positive note came from Ferrari which ended the championship with a thrilling crescendo, leading up to the one-two finish on Sunday with Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto in front of everyone else. The team from Maranello has been able, little by little and not without difficulty, to rediscover its spirit as well as results. Two successes make for a positive balance, considering that almost everything was new within the team: the addition of Berger, the much more difficult one of Barnard, the return on track of Postlethwaite, then the redesigned engine, chassis and aerodynamics of the cars made from scratch, adopting new sophisticated electronics, the use of telemetry during the race as well to gather the necessary data to control the activity of the cars. In the return to the top of the Scuderia Ferrari, the human element also stands out. The team from Maranello seems to have found a leader in Gerhard Berger and all of this is in a moment of crisis for Michele Alboreto. The pole positions and the two wins (almost winning in Portugal as well) bear the signature of the Austrian driver. He is the one who made the difference and brought them out of a downward spiral, making up for the shortcomings the car may still have. Gerhard Berger says:


"I don’t know if we could have done more. We worked very hard, but the results only came in the end. It was a particularly tough season but I am quite satisfied. And most of all I am happy to be at Ferrari. I asked myself time and time again if I had made a mistake: I could have stayed at Benetton, and I had received offers from Williams and McLaren. Maybe if I had gone to one of those two teams results would have been more immediate. But here, in Maranello, I gained inimitable experience. The environment is complicated but reactive and stimulating. There was a lot of pressure. Nevertheless, we were able to find a solution to every problem". 


The distancing of Barnard from the track, the relationship with Alboreto and with the team. What has had a negative influence? 


"Nothing. I think very highly of John and I trust his technical capacities. But I do not have any issues with the others. In the beginning, the team was acting a bit cold with me. Now things have changed; I think they love me. With Michele, there were frictions, maybe some misunderstandings. It is natural in an individual sport like this one. But we never argued. And now, in the last few weeks, the relationship has been great". 


What have been the most difficult moments? 


"During the races at Silverstone and Hockenheim. I had some doubts and I was a bit demoralised. Then we got back on track. Also when I made the mistake that maybe made me lose the race in Portugal, I did not feel guilty. I thought I was doing the right thing to win". 


What does Berger think about Enzo Ferrari?


"Unfortunately, I do not speak Italian well enough yet. I haven’t had the chance to know him well. Anyway, he struck me for his extraordinary capacity, especially given that he is almost ninety years old. It is his readiness of mind. And then his determination, his desire to stay on top. And that is why I identify with the Engineer". 


Now a challenging winter awaits, with many tests and complicated decisions.


"That does not scare me: from my home, in Austria, I can get to Maranello in a heartbeat: half an hour to get to the airport, 35 minutes of flight to Bologna and just as many minutes to get to Fiorano. What matters is preparing well for next season. So far, I think I have reached my limit only in qualifying. In the race, I can still improve. That is why I am ready to work hard. Ferrari needs to fight for the World Championship. And I have the same objective. You need some motivation to go fast. It is an old saying: you are fast if you have the right psychological push. And if the drive is there you can improve even further. If our cars are competitive, and I am sure of it, next year the music will change, not just some exciting songs like in Japan and Australia but a full symphony". 


Formula 1 has become a showcase for motorsport with a great impact on the public around the world. It is a success that fuels intense rivalries and brings multi-million investments leading to a stimulating technological challenge. This is also the reason why Ferrari is making such a remarkable effort. The first results came with the wins in Suzuka and Adelaide but the effort is projected into the future. With some uncertainties. In the face of regulation changes set for 1988, the team from Maranello is now at a crossroads. In fact, for the next championship, the rules provide for the use of 1500 cc turbo engines with maximum pressure limited to 2.5 bar (instead of the current 4 bar) or 3500 cc naturally aspirated engines. A tough choice: making a mistake would mean wasting a year. Ferrari needs to work on various fronts. In Guildford, John Barnard is preparing the car for the naturally aspirated engine, while in Fiorano the new 12-cylinder engine has been running on the test bench for a while. But it is not over yet. The technicians working for the team from Maranello are also working on a modified 6-cylinder turbo engine and an evolution of the current car. There are doubts especially about fuel consumption, limited to 159 litres for turbo engines. Cars with supercharged engines will certainly have more power but they may not finish some races due to lack of fuel. And given that technique (and especially electronics) are constantly in progress, many tests will need to be done before taking a decision. It seems that the two different opportunities have given rise to just as many schools of thought within Ferrari. On one side, John Barnard with his new single-seater designed to house a naturally aspirated engine; on the other, the engineers in Maranello (lead by Postlethwaite) who have fine-tuned the winning car from the final races of the World Championship. An internal fight that will be judged by Enzo Ferrari, who will clearly take the decision depending on the results of the tests scheduled in the coming months. The Scuderia Ferrari Sporting Director, Marco Piccinini, says:  


"We will be at Estoril in December already, then in January maybe we will go to Jerez, in Spain, for comparative testing. Hard work awaits our drivers and Gerhard Berger will be fully involved so as not to overload Alboreto". 


For Postlethwaite, the fact of having a winning car now is not negative per se, although many things will have to be modified: 


"The data is clear, the wind tunnel allows us to set the car with a given certainty". 


But how will the new Ferrari be? For Barnard’s one, there is talk of extremely advanced and very interesting solutions. Instead, the other will necessarily be the current one with some changes: as for the regulations, in that case, it will not be possible to change the chassis. The reduction of the fuel tank will still allow for the lowering of the floor. 


Moreover, it will be possible to remove the side ducts given that with 2.5 bars the cooling system of the engine will be reduced. A series of commitments that will now allow them to rest on their laurels. As for the other teams, there are some news on the driver market. Alessandro Nannini will drive for Benetton next year, replacing Teo Fabi. On Friday, December 4, 1987, a bit pale, but finally at peace, and well rested, the three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet officially kicks off the 1988 Formula 1 season. An analysis of the prospects for the following season awaits until the scheduled tests in Estoril, starting from Monday, December 14, 1987, in which almost all teams will take part. Past and future are at the centre of the discussion. Nelson Piquet considers himself to be a satisfied driver, will he suffer from the arc of the champions in decline? 


"My hardest year in Formula 1 was the first. All in all, it is not a difficult environment to enter, from which, however, you can quickly get out. The one that made me suffer the most was the last one: the crash in Imola, internal clashes within the team, and the tough fight with Mansell. It was a horrible psychological challenge. But this does not mean that I consider myself ready for retirement. I think I am the fastest, although at times I have had to make some calculations like Lauda did". 


This calls Nigel Mansell directly into question…


"Precisely him. He is a very fast driver. He always wants to make the fastest lap and show that he is the best. In the dry and wet alike, in the race and in qualifying, a minute after getting on track, maybe with cold tires as well, taking incredible risks. It is a wrong mental approach. I already knew that sooner or later he was going to pay for his recklessness as happened in Suzuka. After all, I should thank him though: he gave me an incentive to win and especially on a few occasions he handed data to me on a silver platter about the limits of our cars". 


Moving on to the next appointments. McLaren with the formidable Prost-Senna line-up and Ferrari on the rise; they are the ones to beat. 


"Fearsome adversaries. But I don’t want to look inside other teams. I am focusing on myself and Lotus. I didn’t change teams for money, I took it as a new challenge. I never moved to a team that had won the World Championship the previous year. I have faith in Ducarouge as an engineer and in my capabilities of fine-tuning the car. I want to work to fight for the fourth title. At Lotus in 1986 Senna said that the car was amazing and that the Renault engine was a disaster. In 1987 at Lotus the engine was great and the car was trash. I hope to arrive at the right moment, both for the car and engine". 


And what about Ferrari?


"I don’t know anything. I have no knowledge of issues with Barnard and I don’t know their programs. I can only say that at the end of the season, Ferrari was saved by Berger. He proved that he was quick and capable of winning. He was also accused of making mistakes: we all make them. He certainly was the driver of the year and if they give him a competitive car he can be an extremely dangerous rival. I also like Nannini a lot. With Benetton, he will have the chance to stand out". 


Regulations are changing: turbo or naturally aspirated engine?


"I choose the turbo, also with 2.5 bars of pressure. It will be successful with 50-60 HP more. There will be no fuel consumption issues. In qualifying we will be faster and in the races, we will have other advantages. Moreover, the cars will still be safe because they are built to handle 900 HP, while now we are going to race with 650 HP". 


Nelson Piquet says he did not move to Lotus for money. How do you explain the request for 48,000 dollars to take part in the Autosprint Golden Helmets Awards awards ceremony? 


"It is a form of defence as well, so as not to have too many commitments. Anyway, I did not earn that money. We take great risks and we are overloaded with work. But we are not only thinking about dollars: I organised a karting race in Milan on December 12. I called my colleagues and they will all be there. Lauda, Prost, Rosberg, Berger, Johansson, Patrese, De Cesaris…The proceeds will go to cancer research. In Brazil, I take care of poor children. In Italy there are fewer, therefore we want to give our contribution to fighting that horrible evil". 


Formula 1 will return on track on Monday, December 14, 1987, on the Estoril circuit, in Portugal. Exactly a month after the end of the World Championship, the drivers and cars will resume their work waiting for the 1988 World Championship that will presumably start between the end of March and the first days of April, in Rio de Janeiro. We will have to patiently wait a bit more to know the final calendar that will be published in Paris. Officially, it will be tyre testing but actually, this off-season commitment that involves almost all teams will serve as a first test. The most awaited is the McLaren which has started a new chapter. After three years of absolute domination (from 1984 to 1986) and one year, in 1987, when they fought for the title almost until the end, the British team switched from the Porsche engine to adopt a Honda engine. Next to Alain Prost, they have called a valuable driver such as Ayrton Senna, creating a more than fearsome complex, at least in theory, because new line-ups, especially when technical factors come in, always need a good shakedown. Coming to the end of this three-year experience with Lotus, Ayrton Senna draws some conclusions in collaboration with the Autosprint newspaper, thanking the team and explaining the reasons for his departure:


"Six Grand Prix wins and sixteen pole positions in three years are a good result, and I found myself in the condition to choose whether I wanted to race for another team. I want to thank Lotus for having given me the chance to obtain these results. I have nothing to complain about the past. Someone said that I am leaving because I don’t get along anymore with Gérard Ducarouge. Actually, if there is an engineer I would like to still have in my team that would be him. From ’88 we will not be working together anymore but I hope that in a hypothetical future, our duo will be able to reunite. I had come to the decision to leave Lotus in March already, way before the Brazilian Grand Prix. I wanted to have a very competitive season but starting from the first tests I had the sensation that it was not going to happen. Our potential was not enough, and the issue was not about the capabilities of our engineers but about the structure and organisation of the team. Nonetheless, I did not get discouraged as there was a lot of work to be done, from the fine-tuning of the active suspensions to the use of the new Honda engine. We all knew that it was going to be hard. The results still showed, so much so that even in a situation of technical inferiority, halfway through the season we were leading the championship with two wins to our name, in Montecarlo and Detroit. It was on this occasion that everyone hailed active suspensions as a miracle, forgetting that exactly a year before I had won the same Grand Prix with traditional suspensions and a Renault engine". 


Then he goes on:


"In my opinion, the concept of the car was wrong and the whole team focused on the project of active suspensions hoping that it could make the difference. But suspensions controlled by a computer could not make up for a chassis that was not adequately developed. If I think back on my three years at Lotus, I have to say that from a chassis point of view, we worsened along the way. In 1985, I had the best chassis of all but the Renault engine consumed too much fuel. In ’86 French technicians made great progress, although the chassis was not the same as the year before… this year we had the best engine and in spite of this, Williams could qualify with a few seconds of advantage and even tough in the races the gap halved there was not much we could do. 


And adds:


In Hockenheim, I said to Peter Warr that I was going to leave. I did it out of fairness toward the team, to give them the chance to find another driver as there were still some on the market. As a response to my fairness, the team released a statement in which it seems that I was fired to be replaced by Piquet…it didn’t manage me in any way but it was a behaviour that I disliked. It was a tough season for me, I had to carry on a project and in order to do it I had to force myself to believe in it. But for me, the time has come to change". 


While all the others are working and some are still tormented with doubts about what choice to make in view of the new regulations (with turbo engines limited to 2.5 bars of pressure), McLaren has already made Prost test a single-seater on which the Japanese engine was mounted. Testing was carried out in Silverstone, England. Top-secret testing did not prevent the French champion from expressing some driving reviews: 


"An extraordinary docility. A much more agile McLaren, easy to drive. There is practically no response time. When you press on the accelerator the reaction is immediate, instead before you had to wait a fraction of a second to fire up the engine. It seems to me that we are on the right track. But the power loss is considerable as there is 300 less horsepower. This means that there will be a levelling of values and much will depend on the fine-tuning of the cars, on reliability and finding the best compromises. Who will manage to succeed first will certainly have some advantages. And we have done that quite quickly". 


From the conversation with Alain Prost emerges a lot of confidence. It is clear that McLaren is not going to be taken by surprise and everything is being done quickly so as to be ready for the start of the championship. And this calls Ferrari into question, considered by many to be the car to beat, after the end of the season successes in Suzuka and Adelaide. But from Maranello, little news surfaces. The possibility to sign a third driver (probably Stefano Modena) was already known. Silence fell on John Barnard after the enthusiasm with which the team from Maranello had presented him to the press and the Tifosi. We will have to wait for the new car to judge him, but still for how long? Anyway, Ferrari still does not feel tied to anyone for life as it has always been. Ferrari will probably start the new championship with the turbo engine car, although officially they will wait for the comparison with the 12-cylinder naturally aspirated engine car, with the chassis made in England. 


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