• 1988

Senna wins thrilling Japanese finale to land first title

ESPNF1 Staff
January 1, 1988
Ayrton Senna stalled on the grid but recovered from 14th to win in Japan © Sutton Images
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Season's results | Drivers' Championship | Constructors' Championship

Alain Prost scored more points than McLaren team-mate Ayrton Senna, but the Brazilian claimed the drivers' title because he could count his best 11 results from the 16 rounds and, moreover, had eight wins to Prost's seven.

This was the final year for cars with turbocharged engines and turbo fuel allowance was slashed to just 150 litres per race with a maximum of 2.5 bar boost. McLaren was the only team to bother building a new chassis for this final turbo year and this, as well as lusty Honda power, meant that it ruled the roost.

There was a good deal of change among the top teams, with Senna quitting Lotus for McLaren and his compatriot Nelson Piquet filling the seat that he'd vacated after leaving Lotus for Williams, something that wasn't seen as a good move as Williams no longer had Honda engines but Judd units instead, as did Ligier and March.

It was McLaren and Lotus that were to enjoy Honda power. Stefan Johansson left McLaren for Ligier, with Piercarlo Ghinzani making way by heading to Zakspeed to fill the seat left open by Martin Brundle standing down to chase success in sports cars with Jaguar. Alessandro Nannini was rewarded for strong form with Minardi by a drive at Benetton.

Brabham dropped to the sidelines, but the British team was replaced by three new teams: Dallara, Eurobrun and Rial. March, meanwhile, doubled its presence, adding Mauricio Gugelmin to its driving strength alongside Ivan Capelli.

Making a flying start for McLaren, Senna qualified on pole from Mansell's Williams in Brazil, with Prost third, but had to start from the pits. Prost passed Mansell. So did Ferrari's Berger. And no one headed Prost again. Senna reached second, but was disqualified for using the spare car when the race had been delayed rather than restarted after his car had become jammed in first gear on the grid. Thus Berger came second and Nelson Piquet third for Lotus.

Senna led all the way at Imola, helped by Prost being slow off the line and being forced to be his shadow. Senna was almost a minute up on Prost with 12 laps to go at Monaco, when he grazed the barriers.

It was several hours before he re-emerged from his apartment, by which time Prost had won from Berger and Alboreto.

Prost beat Senna in Mexico with only Berger on the same lap. In Canada it was another McLaren one-two, although this time Senna won from Prost. Senna and Prost finished in the same order in Detroit, while Mansell retired for the sixth race in a row. In France, anxious that Senna was eroding his lead, Prost won with Senna a distant second, suffering from gearbox problems.

So difficult were the wet conditions at Silverstone that few will recall that Senna passed the Ferraris to win. What people will recall is that Prost pulled off, saying the conditions were too dangerous. Mansell was second and Nannini third.

Senna won in Germany with Prost second. Then Senna led in Hungary, but hit traffic on the straight. Prost dived inside him, but Senna let him slide by and regained the lead. Senna won again in Belgium, where he overcame a poor start to move into the points lead. Prost was second with Benetton's Boutsen and Nannini third and fourth.

Berger broke McLaren's run. And to make matters better, it was a Ferrari one-two, with Alboreto half a second behind. Better still, the race was in Italy... But what of McLaren? Prost retired when second with engine failure, while Senna was leading on the penultimate lap, but struggling with fuel consumption.

Then he found Williams replacement driver Jean-Louis Schlesser at the chicane. They touched, sending Senna into retirement and the crowd wild. Eddie Cheever and Derek Warwick were third and fourth for Arrows.

McLaren won in Portugal, Prost taking the spoils. The race had to be restarted and Senna led the first lap then swerved at Prost when he pulled alongside as they passed the pits. Prost kept his foot in and took the lead. Senna fell back with handling problems and Ivan Capelli became Prost's challenger. Driving his March like never before, the Italian was the star of the race, but settled for second.

Prost won again in Spain with Senna struggling home fourth, troubled by a computer that gave confusing readings about his fuel consumption. Mansell was a distant second with Nannini third.

Senna stalled in Japan and was in 14th going into the first corner. Prost found himself in the lead, but he had to contend with Capelli, who led briefly before his electrics failed. Senna then caught and passed Prost for his eighth win to claim the title. Prost was second, with Boutsen third yet again. Prost won the last race of the turbo era in Australia from Senna and Piquet.

Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books

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