100 – 1988 Italian Grand Prix



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

To purchase the lead image click 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.

1988 Italian GP
September 11, Monza

It was an archetypal Monza day: mist lifting to reveal a hazy sun as the tifosi to begin with seeped and then flooded over, around and through the perimeter fence. Only one thing was missing.

The increasingly hermitic Enzo Ferrari had not attended his home GP for many years. No matter. The less he did, the more significant he became. Put it this way: Il Papa John Paul II had in June visited Il Commendatore, not vice versa – and Enzo, unwell, had stood him up; they spoke on the phone.

Knowing that Enzo was alive, holed up in his moodily-lit converted Fiorano farmhouse, watching the race on TV, waiting for the celebratory or explanatory phone call, had long been sufficient. But now he was gone. Aged 90.

Jean-Louis Schlesser was about to make his Formula 1 race debut one day short of his 40th birthday. Williams’ Nigel Mansell was indisposed because of a secondary infection triggered by chickenpox and its preferred subs Martin Brundle, Al Unser Jr and Roberto Moreno were unavailable. So Schlesser, a former test driver for the Didcot team, got the call.

The sports car ace, who had failed to qualify a March-RAM for the 1983 French GP at Paul Ricard, struggled in an unfamiliar environment. He crashed his Judd-powered car in practice, qualified only 22nd – more than two seconds slower than team-mate Riccardo Patrese – and tugged in the race. He will, however, always be fondly remembered by Ferrari fans.

The all-conquering McLaren-Honda turbos of pole man Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost – the pair not yet at war but jousting – led the early stages, albeit at a cost. The latter, hampered by a misfire that eventually caused a rare retirement on lap 35 (of 51), had harried his team-mate into a fuel deficit.

Radioed to further reduce his speed in case of a melting piston, Senna suddenly came under pressure from the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto. The latter, racing angry because Williams had welched on a handshake for 1989, set the race’s fastest lap on lap 44. Berger recorded his personal best five laps later to close to within five seconds of Senna.

Two laps remained when the forceful (and perhaps flustered) Brazilian dived by Schlesser at the first part of the first chicane. The undoubtedly flustered Frenchman, who had already been lapped once, ran wide on the dirt, locked up and bumped clumsily across the apex kerb before tipping the leader into a spin and retirement when Senna became beached on the exit kerb; marshals, though able to rock the McLaren as if it were a toy, were unable to get it rolling. The Woking team’s sequence of wins thus ended at 11.

It was left to Berger to lead home a famously raucous Ferrari 1-2. The Austrian had driven superbly after a torrid preparation. His car had developed a sticking throttle on a formation lap. He pitted and hopped into the spare, which handled abominably. He pitted once more and climbed aboard his repaired race chassis, only for its throttle problem to resurface. With time running out, he was forced to race the spare, to make some adjustments on the grid, and to hope for the best.

Motor racing’s god was smiling down on him that Monza day. PF

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