The Australian Grand Prix, held on the streets of Adelaide, was the sixteenth and final event in the 1987 Formula One season, and was run in very hot conditions, putting a premium on tyres and brakes.
There were some changes to the regular scene in driver/car combinations, for Nigel Mansell was forced to miss the event on medical advice following his accident at the Japanese Grand Prix two weeks earlier.
Riccardo Patrese, who is due to be Mansell’s team-mate in the Williams team in 1988, was released early from his Brabham contract and took over the Williams-Honda car. number five for this event The empty seat in the Brabham team was filled by young Stefano Modena, the 1987 F3000 Champion, making his debut in Formula One.
Apart from being the end of the 1987 Grand Prix season, this race was also the end of many more things in F1. McLaren was having its last race with Porsche engines, before changing to Honda for 1988; Johansson was making his last race with the McLaren team, being replaced next year by Ayrton Senna; and Piquet was making his final appearance with the Williams team before taking Senna’s place at Lotus.
The Williams team was having its last race with Honda engines, and Ligier was ending its use of BMW-Megatron engines. Data General was having its last fling with the Tyrrell team, Fabi was about to bid farewell to Benetton, and there were a few more moves in the offing, but yet to be finalised. It was truly “end of term” and the whole meeting had that air about it.
Gerhard Berger dominated proceedings almost from the start of testing to the end of race day, demonstrating clearly that his charging form which really took off towards the end of the European races was no flash-in-the-pan. He was fastest in qualifying on Friday and only beaten by Prost on Saturday, though he retained pole position.
Come the race, it was Berger all the way; he led every lap from the green light to the chequered flag, with fastest lap (a new lap record) to add to his victory. The only serious challenge to the Ferrari domination came from Senna, but though he closed to within a few seconds the Lotus was wearing its tyres out too fast and he had to ease off in the closing stages to be sure of finishing second, ahead of Alboreto’s Ferrari.
Senna’s prudence was to no avail, for after the race the Benetton team lodged a protest against the Lotus 99T, claiming that its additional brake-cooling ducts put the bodywork width beyond the regulation limit. This protest was upheld by the scrutineers and the Lotus 99T was disqualified from its second place, thus moving the remaining finishers up one place, and giving the Ferrari team a welcome one-two.
Of the other front-runners, Prost spun out of the race when a brake disc shattered, Piquet’s Williams went out with brake problems, Patrese retired the second Williams with a broken Honda engine, Fabi stopped his Benetton with brake trouble, and Johansson suffered the same trouble as Prost with the second McLaren.
With the 1987 season over, there is a lot of work ahead in the next three months as designers install different engines in new cars, team-managers acquaint themselves with different drivers, and some of the lesser teams start worrying about how they are going to maintain the pace and stay in the game. DSJ
(Review and details by AH next month)