Thursday 24 September 1987 Gerhard Berger is the first among the drivers to arrive at the circuit of Jerez, during the hot hours of siesta, while the majority of his colleagues is at the sea or in the pool.
"I don’t have to forgive anything, I just wanted a few minutes of tranquility to see the cars and thank the mechanics".
So Gerhard Berger makes his reappearance in the circus of Formula 1 after a few days of rest and some thoughts on the mistake that cost him the victory in Portugal. The Austrian adds:
"I didn’t have nightmares. What could I do to counter Prost? Among other things, if he had reached me, I would not have resisted: the Frenchman would have increased the pressure of the turbines and would have overtaken me with McLaren. And I couldn’t have done the same. - the sixth gear, for the progressive lightening of my Ferrari, had become too short and the speed limiter intervenes on the engine. I assure you that I have done everything possible".
An episode to forget, then. But Ferrari has lost the first real chance of victory after 34 races...
"I will try again in the Spanish Grand Prix. In winter practice Ferrari with Alboreto had the best time. We’ll have to have other chances of success. In any case, I promise to everyone, especially to the fans of Maranello, that I will give my all to make up for lost time".
Ferrari, returning to the top, can be referee of the World Championship. Taking points from this or that of the drivers competing for the title could favor someone. Says Gerhard Berger:
"Only one thing is certain, this is the last thing we think about. It doesn’t matter, we’re not gonna play favorites if we get a chance to place well. After all, Johansson at Estoril made me lose precious seconds at the end of the race when he kept me behind two laps without allowing me to overtake him even though he was widely rounded. And he let Prost get close. If I hadn’t lost those 5-8 seconds, I probably wouldn’t have had to risk it that way and I wouldn’t have gone off the track, there’s no mercy here for anyone".
Gerhard Berger is ready to make it up to you, to make you forget an exciting day and then disappointing. All eyes, however, are on the four contenders for the World Championship, namely Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost. It is still very difficult to calculate how much can happen. It must be said, however, that a possible affirmation by the Brazilian of Williams would definitely remove Alain Prost from the competition, while he could still hope for a miracle who came second between Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna. A race in which Nelson Piquet can also put an end to the title battle. But there are those who have something more than a hope to stop him. If Nigel Mansell still fears some prank from Honda, who always seems confident is Ayrton Senna.
"I did the math right and it turned out that without replacing the ECU I would have won with 58 seconds of advantage. Here history should not repeat itself. So the battle is still open, although of course Piquet is favored".
The conclusion of the Formula 1 World Championship is approaching. And tension increases. Friday, September 25, 1987, in the middle of the battle emerges the usual name. That of the irreducible Nigel Mansell, author of the fastest lap in 1'23"081, at an average of 182.771 km/h (the record of the circuit belongs to Ayrton Senna, obtained in 1986 with a time of 1'21"605). But the gap that the Englishman of Williams inflicts to Ferrari of Gerhard Berger is only 0.83 seconds. Confirmation of the positive moment of the Maranello team also comes from the fourth place of Michele Alboreto, preceded by Nelson Piquet, but ahead of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
In an atmosphere of open challenge in every sense (among pretenders to the title, among teammates, among drivers looking for a place for next year) there is also the unexpected. Wednesday, September 23, 1987, late in the evening the circuit had to be practically cleared for an anonymous phone call announcing the explosion of a bomb at 11:30 p.m. It may be the work of the usual mythoman, but the police had to intervene in force with a special counter-terrorism team from Cadiz, which inspected every corner, including all the vans of the teams. Fortunately, the threat was unfounded, but it is clear that there was fear. Returning to the tests there are also those who try to exploit an episode of routine, a quarrel on the track between Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto. Among many riders there is no sympathy: Ayrton Senna is disliked by many colleagues, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet almost do not speak, and so on. It is normal that there is rivalry, even and perhaps especially between teammates. But this time it was enough to know that the Austrian had hindered the Italian while trying to get a good time to mount a case. In fact, nothing happened. Michele Alboreto explains:
"The track is narrow, I could not make a single lap without traffic problems. To avoid the March of Hair I ended up in a meadow and not to bump Berger I passed on a curb, scratching the bottom of my car. It is normal".
The Austrian apologized to Michele saying:
"I didn’t see you".
And the Italian driver answers quietly:
"Don’t worry about it".
About the fact that the comrade is often in front, Michele Alboreto specifies:
"He’s a great guy. I am going through a period in which I am haunted by bad luck and trouble and I can never express myself to the fullest, for one reason or another. But this is part of the game, I still have confidence in my chances, even though I know it’s hard to beat him".
The two Ferrari drivers also say that the chassis of their cars is great, but that the engine response time is too high, in a slow track full of curves like this. A difficult track, however, for everyone since Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost are also the authors of a spin and that Stefan Johansson crashes into a guardrail, blowing up the left rear wheel. The asphalt in some points is wavy and this puts in difficulty the cars that have the active suspension, instead highlighting the single-seater with aspirated engine with Jonathan Palmer and Ivan Capelli in the middle of the grid, in front of many turbo cars. Nigel Mansell prefers to drive the traditional Williams:
"The other one didn’t give me confidence in fast corners".
While Nelson Piquet drives the one equipped with the sophisticated system, but is not satisfied, so is Ayrton Senna, who explains that he is in trouble when he tries to attack to get the lap time, while things are much better in race conditions. Perhaps for these reasons too, on Saturday, September 26, 1987, Nelson Piquet won the twenty-fourth pole position in his career in Spain and is running for a very important victory. It is a truly magical lap with which the Brazilian Williams driver mortifies the ambitions of rivals in the fight for the title and for the Spanish Grand Prix. And if he can keep the first place, the game for the conquest of the third World Championship could be done. In any case, Nelson Piquet has already won the battle from the psychological point of view, his opponents are with low morale: Nigel Mansell almost loses his head and even takes off all the time of the second qualifying with an unconscious gesture of anger.
Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, on the other hand, try to fight the South American and, faced with several problems, remain behind in the grid: fifth the Lotus driver, seventh that of McLaren. And in a narrow circuit full of curves like that of Jerez, this is a problem not to be underestimated. Nelson Piquet, who also mocked Gerhard Berger, will also have an involuntary ally in the Scuderia Ferrari drivers. Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto occupy the second row of the grid, with the Austrian and the Italian in the order. The day is not favorable to the team of Maranello, troubled by many troubles, but confirms its competitiveness. Ferrari, in short, keeps intact the chances of being a great protagonist of the race. Nelson Piquet worked hard with the active suspension of Williams, finding a perfect set-up, and ten minutes from the end of the practice turns in 1'22"461, a time that allows him to climb in first position, ousting Nigel Mansell. The Englishman, who continues to cast suspicion not only on the Honda but now also on his team, is upset. Returning to the box, Mansell is stopped by the technical commissioners to carry out routine checks. But the Briton gets impatient, gets out of the car leaving it in place and gets on the one with the active suspension. For this reason the direction of the race decides to take away the time of the session, which however does not change anything in the deployment.
"They gave me a car that was not well regulated, they don’t want to put me in a position to fight on equal terms with Nelson".
The Englishman just doesn’t seem to be in the best conditions to drive calmly. Nelson Piquet comments the story with the usual caustic spirit:
"He doesn’t believe in active suspension. As for Senna, he has only one chance: he can try not to change the tires, but it will be a risk. I am still calm, I will try to win, but I would also need a third place".
What about the Ferrari?
"I wish him good luck...".
And certainly Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto will aim for that success that unfortunately continues not to arrive. But it will not be easy. In Jerez, everything happens to the Maranello team. In the morning the Italian driver is the protagonist of an accident: after trying with a full tank of petrol ("The car was perfect"), he returned to the track with the tank almost empty. At the fifth corner the car is visible, goes off the track and ends up against the protections. A nice fear, suspension torn, damaged shell. Michele Alboreto receives the reserve car of Gerhard Berger for qualifying. But it’s a different car, to be adjusted, and Michele can’t improve. The Austrian instead asks to change the engine that seems out of shape. The mechanics work like madmen, but there is a loss of oil and the mechanics are forced to resort to a fourth car that was kept in stock, also obviously to be developed. In the last hectic minutes, with a lot of traffic on track, there is nothing to do. Admits, realistically, Michele Alboreto:
"I don’t think we will be able to repeat the Portugal race. However we are always in a good position to fight with the Williams and the best".
The Spanish Grand Prix, therefore, is presented with a must favorite in Nelson Piquet. But there are many uncertainties: tire changes, breakdowns always lurking and also the weather, since in the afternoon rain falls and the forecast for Sunday are not good. For Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, however, life will be difficult. Also because Gerhard Berger says:
"We have only one goal and that is to achieve success. In qualifying things didn’t go too well, but I plan to put everything back in place on Sunday in the warming meteor. I will have my race car again and I will try to prepare it as best I can for an attack race. I have received a letter of congratulations and encouragement from the engineer Enzo Ferrari and I know that awaits a statement. I hope I don’t disappoint him".
The intentions are good, but there is a Williams to beat, while Lotus, McLaren and also Benetton are not to be underestimated, with Teo Fabi who is quite confident. But everything is conditioned by the team that dominated the season: Nigel Mansell is in crisis (the Englishman in anger runs away from the circuit returning after an hour and a half, in time to learn that he received for his show a fine of $ 3,000)but you have to take into account his determination and his desire to show that it is the fastest. Williams, among other things, Saturday 26 September 1987 officialize the signing of Riccardo Patrese for next year. A great recognition for the Italian driver who arrives in a top-team even if there will be no more Honda engines. Riccardo Patrese, 33, is currently the veteran of Formula 1 with 157 races and two victories, and on Sunday he will try - with a Brabham always lacking in reliability - to confirm Frank Williams who made a good deal. Good also the performance of his teammate, Andrea De Cesaris, who scored the tenth best time. But at the end of the tests the Italian driver ended up against a low wall, damaging the car, and in the race he will have to drive a refilled single-seater. There are also other incidents: Alex Caffi bends a suspension of the Osella (which so does not qualify), Campos slams violently the Minardi and is forced to resort to medical care for a bruised wrist. Positive notes instead for the new Coloni that marks with Nicola Larini the twenty-sixth time. For the Italian driver, car salesman in his father’s Lancia dealership in Camaiore, this is the official debut in Formula 1. Sunday 27 September 1987, at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, after being the author of an exceptional start, Nigel Mansell tries to keep behind him his teammate and rival to the title, Nelson Piquet. The Brazilian driver tries a couple of recoveries, then is forced to give up. From this moment Nigel Mansell leads the race always staying in first position and conquering precious seconds every lap. Behind the Williams #5, Ayrton Senna, thanks to a perfect start, passes the two Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto that precede him in the grid. Absurdly, it is the Austrian to favor the maneuver, hindering the teammate. And so the Brazilian manages to pass the two Ferrari drivers. The Lotus driver continues without making the slightest mistake until the tyres support him, leaving no room for overtaking the pursuers. Thus a group is formed, with Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger, Michele Alboreto, Thierry Boutsen and Teo Fabi in the order. Alain Prost, who started badly, managed to recover.
Perhaps this is the advantage of the Frenchman, who in the first part of the race is not involved in the terrible fight behind the Brazilian’s Lotus. After ten laps Gerhard Berger tries to pass the Lotus of Ayrton Senna, but fails. And after two laps the Austrian is in turn attacked and left behind by Michele Alboreto. The two teammates do not spare each other, but always in the name of fairness and a sense of responsibility, even if from the pits the technicians live thrilling moments. During lap 28 the leading drivers returned to the pits for tyre replacement, but positions remained unchanged, with Nigel Mansell ahead of Nelson Piquet by over 8 seconds. Alain Prost made the pit stop, followed by Teo Fabi. Meanwhile Michele Alboreto tries to pass Ayrton Senna repeatedly, but without luck. During lap 42 Nigel Mansell returned to the pits to replace the tyres. The British driver has 24 seconds of margin against his teammate, and returns to the track keeping the leadership. During the 44 lap Michele Alboreto, busy following Ayrton Senna, breaks up, Gerhard Berger passes but the two Ferrari drivers are surprised to see that Alain Prost, behind them, passes them both, with class and timing. Shortly after, Nelson Piquet returned to the pits to change tires. But not everything works as it should, and the Brazilian is back on track behind Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna (the only one who hasn’t changed tires) and Alain Prost. The groups come together in different order. The Brazilian of Lotus delays the braking in the attempt to pass Alain Prost, but misses and ends up spinning, losing several positions and sliding behind Michele Alboreto and Thierry Boutsen. After the pit-stop, Gerhard Berger pushed the pace, setting the lap record. The Austrian driver passes Alain Prost, while Nelson Piquet passes Thierry Boutsen. The Brazilian reached Ayrton Senna, who was struggling with tyres, and passed him with an extraordinary manoeuvre after his fellow countryman, in an attempt to block him, had changed the trajectory a few times. Perhaps his only incorrect maneuvers of the race. But for Nelson Piquet the problems do not end here. The Brazilian is still wrong, he ends up in the grass and is overtaken by Alain Prost. Nelson Piquet then returned to the pits to clean up the radiators and in the final Stefan Johansson, loyal wingman of Alain Prost, denied him the third place, finishing on the podium.
Meanwhile, both Scuderia Ferrari drivers retired. First Gerhard Berger, then Michele Alboreto, both with engine problems. Only the fastest lap of the Austrian remains and the feeling that if Ayrton Senna had not slowed down the two drivers of the Maranello team, the race could have gone differently. Nigel Mansell won the Spanish Grand Prix, followed by Alain Prost and Stefan Johansson, who preceded Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Philippe Alliot. It was supposed to be Nelson Piquet’s race, but Nigel Mansell won. Ferrari was expected to be confirmed at the top but Michele Alboreto and Gerhard Berger, despite the competitiveness of the cars, did not reach the finish line. The Spanish Grand Prix once again said that Formula 1 is not only made of technique and engines, but also and above all of men, with feelings, fears, emotions. The race, beautiful and full of twists, brings back in the race for the victory of the World Championship the driver considered more fragile psychologically, that is Nigel Mansell. He had lost his mind on Saturday fighting with the sports stewards, had his qualifying time cut, had a fine of 3000 dollars, had expressed doubts in his team, feared conspiracy. He seemed destroyed, ready for defeat. Instead he won big, highlighting an exceptional temperament. The most awaited drivers fell: Nelson Piquet, now ready to win the World Championship and favored for the important stage success. And also Gerhard Berger, awaited at the test, the emerging talent. For them it was the festival of mistakes, of the mistakes Marchiani that have compromised for the Brazilian a statement now certain and for the Austrian Ferrari a situation of ascent. The most negative surprise came from Nelson Piquet, expert champion. He could easily aim for a second place, he had to settle for the fourth. On three occasions the Brazilian committed incredible ingenuity. The first mistake in the pit stop for tyre changes. He didn’t keep his foot on the brake, the wheels were spinning and the mechanics couldn’t screw them. So he lost precious seconds and went back on track behind Nigel Mansell. Then when he tried to overtake Alain Prost (another protagonist in positive, intelligent and skilled as always) and ended up in a spin for daring an impossible braking.
Finally in the end, forced to plow a meadow to overcome a car much slower. The speech for the world title remains open: Piquet is still largely in the lead, but from the next race he will have to discard points. His possible roof remains high, unreachable for opponents (odds 84). However the Brazilian to climb from the current 70 points, will have to finish at least third. The situation has become more rosy for Nigel Mansell, rising to second place in the ranking and with the possibility of adding up from now on all the scores (roof 79). Gerhard Berger, while confirming his skills as a sprinter, made mistakes with a competitive Ferrari, depriving the Maranello team of a finish, probably a second place behind Nigel Mansell. A disappointing record, given that in Portugal he had already lost the chance to win, even if at that time he was forced to risk beyond the limit. The Austrian driver showed his poor attitude for departures. And this time, to get between the two Williams, also blocked Michele Alboreto, favoring the overtaking of Ayrton Senna, who then conditioned the whole race. Then the Austrian again damaged his teammate trying to overcome him. Both of them fell apart and Alain Prost passed them. In the final Gerhard Berger finished off the track to overtake Thierry Boutsen. He collected grass, hay and also two oil-smeared helmet visors that other pilots had thrown away. With the radiators clogged the engine overheated, yielding in a cloud of smoke. Life for the two drivers was complicated by the sporting direction of Ferrari. It’s true, the Maranello team tried to complete the whole race without changing the tyres, but when it was seen that the tyres could not hold, why did the order to return to the pits come so late? If the stop had been made before, Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto would have detached from the car of Ayrton Senna that blocked them and perhaps, with fresh tires, they could have made the difficult overtaking with greater ease. However, even Alboreto, who was not a little damaged, expresses harsh words for the team-mate:
"I had to brake at the start to avoid hitting Gerhard’s car and Senna mocked us. Then I got past Berger when he hesitated, maybe he took a wrong turn. Then he slipped in brutally and Prost overtook us both. An unnecessary and inappropriate maneuver. But I want to stress that there are no differences between us beyond the normal rivalry between drivers. Senna was not incorrect".
Gerhard Berger, however, justifies himself by saying:
"I tried to get between the two Williams. I thought Alboreto would hold off Senna. Anyway, it was my mistake. When I passed Michele, I wanted to try to attack Senna, because I felt that my car was faster: it went wrong".
According to Harvey Postlethwaite, the British designer responsible for the cars on track, there was a bit of bad luck, in addition to the mistakes:
"We decided not to change the tyres. If Senna hadn’t blocked us, we might have made it. Instead between braking and overtaking attempts the tires have worn out more than expected. We threw away a second place. We could keep the pace of at least one of the two Williams: Great satisfaction for Williams, except for Piquet".
The English team mathematically won the fourth Constructors' World Championship, with three races to spare. Now we play the world helmet and Nigel Mansell feels again in the race:
"It was a tough race, I had a cramp in my leg, I almost couldn’t squeeze the clutch. A few laps from the end also broke the seat. But the result was exceptional: now we will fight until the end. Anything can happen, but be sure that if they give me a car and an engine like these in the next races, in Adelaide I will have a better position in the standings than the current one".
And since it is now according to this is a declaration of war against Nelson Piquet: the Englishman thinks he can win the world championship. The Brazilian is very disappointed, he almost doesn’t want to talk, then he says:
"Everything happened to me, I made a lot of mistakes. I started quietly not to stop to change the tires. Then they wore out. I struggled to recover. Senna closed me right and left, the usual incorrect".
After the race, some teams remain on the Spanish circuit for a series of tests. From Tuesday 29th to Wednesday 30th September 1987 the Scuderia Ferrari (with Gerhard Berger), McLaren, Benetton and Tyrrell test tyres with the Goodyear. But it is not excluded that new technical solutions will also be used secretly for next year and the season finale. Benetton, which has promised a definition of its programs to Teo Fabi within a week, takes advantage of the opportunity to drive their cars to some young people. In a series of tyre tests on Tuesday, Gerhard Berger completed 72 laps, the distance of the race. Best lap time: 1'20"74, better than racing. Ferrari test the car in 1988, with 2.5 bar of pressure. The driver then returns to the events of the Grand Prix:
"I talked to Michele, and we explained. I do not feel accused. Racing in Formula 1 is not like adding".
On the charges, the Austrian replied:
"At the start I leave normally. Alboreto is better than all. Anyone in my place would have done the same thing I did. Then Boutsen had problems. I tried to get past it, I ended up outside and picked up something that clogged the air vents, making the engine overheat. However we must not get excited. In practice we go strong, but then in the race the others win".
Meanwhile, the sponsors and engines hunt continues for next year. In search of financiers many of the smaller teams open the door to drivers who can bring funding. Among these Tyrrell who would like to leave the French Philippe Streiff at home to replace him with a financially more covered driver. As for the engines, rumors continue to circulate of a possible withdrawal of Brabham for a season, due to the lack of valid engines to be mounted on British cars.