79 – 1986 Spanish GP


A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

From the editor Damien Smith

The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

1986 Spanish GP
April 13, Jerez

It was the heart of the turbo era, and while power was at its peak the races were dominated by fuel and tyre conservation. Parts of this recipe might just sound a touch familiar…

Like today, Grand Prix racing was far from perfect in the 1980s, but as Formula 1 returned to Spain for the first time since ’81 it proved it could still throw up a nail-biting thriller.

Ayrton Senna’s Lotus 98T was the fastest thing around the brand new Jerez circuit in the spring of 1986, but with fuel consumption marginal over a race distance the Brazilian knew he couldn’t afford to use all that performance for the duration.

At half-distance Nigel Mansell made his move and took the lead. No panic from Ayrton. He maintained his pace as Alain Prost kept a wily watching brief in third.

Senna’s pure speed in qualifying dominates how we remember him today, but races such as this underlined the power of his racing brain. In the best traditions of nemesis Prost, he won this race using his head.

Mansell’s push to pass had taken the edge from his tyres and he was forced to pit for fresh Goodyears. Now he went for broke in typical fashion and closed on Senna, sniffing a last-gasp victory. Nigel caught the Lotus and, as they rounded the hairpin for the final time, he charged for the line – missing out by just 0.014sec.

Unlucky Mansell? Or had Senna managed the duel to perfection, doing just enough to get the job done? You decide. DS

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