On lap eighteen Jonathan Palmer was in last place, his Tyrol’s suspension was damaged. Its engine 200bhp down on the turbo front runners. He finished fourth
1987 Australian Grand Prix
I always enjoyed driving the street circuits, particularly back in the days when the turbocharged Formula One cars had so much more power than the normally aspirated, Cosworth powered cars I drove. Typically you’d be giving away 200bhp to the turbo runners in race trim and, in qualifying, it could easily be twice that. On the streets though, where that power was more difficult to put on the track, the playing-field, while still far from even, was at least a little more level.
The race I think was my best took place in Adelaide at the end of the 1987 season. There were six cars competing for the Jim Clark Trophy for the normally aspirated cars: two Tyrrell-Ford 016s driven by myself and Philippe Streiff, Ivan Capelli’s March 871, the Lola LC87s of Yannick Dalmas and Philippe Mliot and an AGS JH22 which, by the time of the Australian GP, was being driven by Roberto Moreno.
What was great for me was I arrived in Adelaide in the perfect frame of mind. I had wrapped up the championship for the atmospheric cars at Suzuka -another of my favourite circuits — a fortnight earlier and, while you might dispute its importance today, at the time both the team and I were very, very pleased. I had accomplished what I had set out to achieve and arrived in Australia in relaxed mood helped no doubt by stopping off on the way in Fiji with Martin Brundle for a holiday between the races. And I always enjoyed Adelaide. Qualifying, however, did not go well. We had problems on the first day and while I was quickest of the `atmo’ runners on day two, the track itself was slower and I wound up in 19th place on the grid. Even so, I wasn’t too fussed: I had nothing to lose, I loved the circuit and the hot, dry weather was playing into my hands. The temperature in the cockpit was about 40 deg C which, while certainly uncomfortable, was a walk in the park compared to the in-car conditions to which I had become acclimatised during long-distance drives in enclosed sportscars like the Porsche 962.
The first lap was great and I was able to deal with Alliot, Streiff, Nakajima and Brundle before its end. Ahead lay Modena’s Brabham and the Arrows of Derek Warwick. I got Modena and then lined up to take Derek going into East Terrace, into which we flew side by side. There was some wheelbanging which Derek got away with and I did not. I didn’t need Brundle to come back past me on the next lap to know I had suspension damage: it would oversteer viciously on right-handers and understeer like a pig through the lefts. I also thought I had a puncture. There was no other choice but to pull into the pits on lap five, rejoining the race after perhaps 30sec in 23rd place. Bog last. The next few laps were spent simply trying to work out if it was worth continuing. The tyre change had helped but it was still extremely pointy in rights and difficult to turn into the lefts. Even so, after a few laps spent playing around with the lines to try to compensate, I found I could work around the problem and, around lap 18, thought to hell with it: it’s lasted this long; it’ll last to the end of the race. The rest of the race was a red mist charge. That lap I dealt with both Stefano Modena and Piercarlo Ghinzani, caught and past Teo Fabi on lap 25 and did the same to Moreno on lap 32. I got Yannick Dalmas on the Dequetteville Terrace straight four laps later and then found a way past Allot. It took another twenty laps to close the gap to de Cesaris and find a way past and a further four to put Christian Danner in my mirrors. Next up was Capelli’s March which I was really looking forward to until he had the decency to spin off under pressure before I got the chance. Suddenly, I found myself in the points a pretty rare event for any non turbo car in that era — and when the Honda engine in Patrese’s Williams was good enough to let go, I was fifth, thanks, in fairness, not only to me overtaking more cars than in any other race in my Formula One career, but also to a considerable rate of attrition. And that’s where I found myself when the flag came out. Gerhard Berger won in the Ferrari, as he had in Suzuka, with Senna in the Lotus-Honda second, Michele Alboreto in the other Ferrari third and Thierry Boutsen’s Benetton in fourth place. After two hours in a car with handling so strange that at one stage I had considered abandoning it, I was extremely pleased with the day’s work, not just because I had managed to equal my previous highest F1 result, achieved around the streets of Monaco earlier in the year, but also because I did so effectively from the back of the grid.
I went back to my hotel in high spirits and was in my room when Ken rang. He told me that Ayrton had been disqualified for an irregularity with his front brake ducts, making my final position fourth. Usually, when you manage to inherit a place like this after the race, you tend to feel rather guilty at gaining a position from someone else’s misfortune but, that day, given all the work I had put in and the number of cars I had overtaken, I felt entirely justified in claiming the place.
Looking back now, I note that I recorded the tenth fastest race lap which, given I was one of just six of the 25 starters who did not have a 750bhp, turbocharged engine pushing me around the circuit, I don’t think is too bad. Today’s F1 drivers get totally disgruntled, and they’re right to do so, if they think their engine is 50bhp down on the frontrunners, so you can imagine what it must have been like with a Cosworth DFZ in the back pushing out, at the very most, 570bhp. To come fourth against such long odds in the Adelaide sunshine was just a terrific end to a wonderful year.