The 1987 F1 season followed the pattern of 1986 with the Championship being a contest between the same four drivers and their respective teams – Piquet and Mansell at Williams, Prost at McLaren and Senna at Lotus. Williams once again would win the most races and this time as well as retaining the Constructors’ Championship, one of their drivers did become World Champion.
FISA having decided that as from 1986 a turbo formula was the way forward, now and after just one season decided it wasn’t. Consequently 1987 was the first of two seasons where entrants could use either 1.5 litre turbos or 3.5 litre V8 naturally aspirated power units ready for a full return in 1989.
An equivalence formula it was not. Despite restrictions imposed to reduce the power and speed of the turbos, on a long lap such as Spa the slowest ‘aspro’ was 15 seconds off the pole and 12 seconds off on the short lap of Paul Ricard. Although eligible to score World Championship points the eight drivers in the five ‘aspro’ teams competed for their own World Championships, the Colin Chapman and the Jim Clark Trophies won by Tyrrell and Jonathan Palmer respectively.
My first race was the third of the season, the Belgian Grand Prix at its new permanent home, the shortened Spa. I motored down overnight for Saturday qualifying and drove home again after the race on the Sunday night staying at Maastricht airport on the Saturday as the nearest hotel I could find at a sensible price.
Despite being mid-May it was cold enough for sleet showers during qualifying and Alain Prost won thereby breaking my sequence going back to 1985 of only seeing Nigel Mansell victories. I stopped off at the Dorint Hotel near the circuit on Saturday and met Jonathan Palmer whom I had photographed for ‘Racing For Britain’ in his Formula 3 days. Nigel Mansell was also staying there.
For the French Grand Prix my girlfriend (not a race fan) and I decided to take a leisurely drive down to the south of France with no planned route except to head south and stop where the fancy took us. Neither of us were keen on camping but we took a tent with a view to maybe saving a night or two’s hotel expenses. We took an overnight ‘Truckline’ ferry from Poole to le Havre and on the way did laps of the road circuits of le Mans and the magnificent Charade circuit at Clermont Ferrand as well as a visit to the little French circuit of la Châtre. For more traditional tourism we spent a day visiting the Somme battlefields as well as the cities of Tours and Avignon. Also, we actually camped all the way (and back), firstly in la Châtre itself, then by a lakeside used for watersports in the Auvergne mountains , followed by a night at Aix-en-Provence before basing ourselves at a campsite beside the Mediterranean at la Ciotat, perfect for visiting Circuit Paul Ricard and touring the coast between Marseilles and Bandol. Camping is not so bad with the right weather the right campsite.
I drove up to Paul Ricard on the Friday and Sunday and having experienced the circuit’s travel chaos on previous visits parked up under some shady pines and walked the last couple of kilometres. I was not working but the circuit generously granted me a ‘freebie’ general admission ticket. I love the circuit and the region but the shortened truncated version of the track (halving the Mistral Straight) in response to Elio de Angelis’s testing accident the previous year had taken away a lot of its character.
It was back to normal for me with Mansell winning from Piquet. The race finished early to make way for the main TV event of the day – the French Open Tennis Final. So by early afternoon I was on the beach at Bandol before setting off home via another night at the Aix-en-Provence campsite. Then it was to le Havre in one hit for Monday night’s ferry stopping only at Blois for dinner and a quick look at Mont St. Michel.
With only a week between the French and British Grands Prix it was a quick turnround before I set of for Silverstone the following Thursday. Although I had no work assignments, security accepted my credentials and allowed me into the infield where I found a piece of spare grass, parked up and pitched tent. Then, camping plots were not allocated and numbered as they are now, although areas were given over to groups of people, it was basically first come, first served.
I always enjoyed the Thursday of a Grand Prix weekend. Although there was no action and it was not an official part of the event as it is now, you could loiter about in the paddock or pit-lane watching the cars arrive and be prepared whilst catching up on the news and gossip. It was all very relaxed. Most of the drivers would put in an appearance, usually in ‘civvies’ unless doing a photo-shoot or seat fitting, before disappearing off with their golf clubs.
A large military-style bell tent had appeared next to mine. Its occupier I recognised as an F1 mechanic, obviously not working this weekend as he was hosting a non-stop party with various people coming and going throughout. With sleep being impossible every night I would pass the time by making frequent visits to the garages where there was always something going on in those pre-curfew days.
The race turned out to be one of the great battles between Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, who by this time could barely stand the sight of each other. When Mansell made his move and ‘sold Piquet a dummy’ going into Stowe Corner to take the lead on lap 63 of 65, i knew what had happened by the roar of the crowd even though I was at the opposite end of the circuit ready to get to the podium. The TV clip of that manoeuvre is still often shown.
And that, although it was not even mid-July and after only seven of sixteen rounds, marked the end of my season. Through work and other commitments I would not be going to any more races that year.
The Championship ultimately came down to between the Williams pair. But we were denied the anticipated showdown when Mansell, in true dramatic fashion, missed the last two races following his practice accident in Suzuka. Piquet was gifted his third title despite only winning three races to Mansell’s six, who for the second year in succession won more races then anyone else without reward.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.