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The 1988 Season

The 1988 Season

My personal reminisces of bygone seasons has reached 1988 which was totally dominated by the McLaren MP4/4 powered by the V6 Honda turbo and driven by the ‘dream team’ of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

They won fifteen of the sixteen rounds between them with Senna just pipping Prost to the Championship. The one that got away was Monza where Senna was leading comfortably until he tripped over a back-marker two laps from the end. Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari took a ‘home’ victory as Prost was already out.

It was the final season of the turbo/normally aspirated equivalence Formula and in preparation for the future there was an assortment of Rials, EuroBruns, Colonis, AGSs Larrousses and Dallaras running 3.5 litre normally-aspirated engines, but none made much of an impact or were to last long in F1.

Personally, I attended three Grands Prix, got a soaking in each one and saw Senna win them all.

With the Belgian Grand Prix switching to late summer, it opened the way for me to go to Imola and the San Marino Grand Prix for my first race of the season. As was my custom for my first visit to a European circuit I made a road trip of it stopping en route for a night in Reims and spending another sleeping in the car at a Swiss service station. I also visited the First World War battlefields of Vimy Ridge and Verdun and of course did a lap of the old Reims Grand Prix Circuit. In Italy I found a hotel in Bologna near the railway station from where it was convenient to travel to Imola by train and make day trips to Florence and Venice.

I had no official pass but the circuit granted me free general admission access which was fine. General admission was not graded or split into zones back then – one ticket covered all – so on the Friday in the rain I was able to explore the whole circuit. I decided the best place to watch the race was on top of the hill at Ravazza overlooking the final chicane and down the main straight into the first bend, Tamburello. The race was a McLaren walkover, Senna and Prost lapping the entire field in finishing one/two.

No overnight stops on the drive back after leaving Bologna on the Monday morning but whilst at a petrol station in Verdun at around midnight I was robbed of cash by a gang whilst the helpful attendant in the kiosk on seeing what was happening switched off the forecourt lights, locked himself inside and left me to it. There was no point in reporting it and I still had my credit card so carried on to the next motorway service station which is what I should have done in the first place.

For Silverstone, I arrived on the Thursday as usual, pitched tent and made camp on the infield and then spent the day ambling around watching the teams assemble their cars and the drivers doing photo shoots, seat fittings or whatever, always the most enjoyable and revealing day of the British Grand Prix weekend for me.

Practice and qualifying days were fine and sunny but race-day was cold, wet and windy. Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari had taken the only non-McLaren pole of the season and lead from the start but was eventually passed by Senna. Proving that the rain and possibly Silverstone were great levellers, the normally aspirated Williams-Judd of Nigel Mansell and the Benetton-Ford of Alessandro Nannini finished second and third. It was Mansell’s first points of the season. Alain Prost, never a fan of racing in the rain, withdrew with ‘handling’ problems.

And finally, for me, it was off to Spa for its new late August date. I drove direct to the circuit from the UK overnight on Friday arriving for Saturday practice. I spent Saturday night either in Brussels or Maastricht, I cannot remember which, but they were always my default options as despite a couple of hours drive there was always a hotel room available. I then drove home overnight Sunday after the race.

Saturday was typical Spa wet and miserable conditions but race day was fine. Prost and Senna were still talking to each other at this time but the first chinks in their relationship were beginning to show which probably cost Prost the race. Fed up with Senna copying his car set up at each race he changed his at the last minute and in doing so made the handling worse. Although Prost lead from the start, Senna’s car was quicker and he went on to win with Prost second. Thierry Boutsen (Benetton) was on the podium as third but after the season ended he was subsequently disqualified and the place awarded to Ivan Capelli (Leyton House).

And that was 1988, not the most memorable of seasons but the Championship battle between Senna and Prost, not decided until the second to last round in Japan, kept it alive.