A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).
Jacky Ickx, arguably the greatest wet-weather driver, had seen enough. Twelve years on from finishing second after 80 laps in similarly horrendous conditions, the Belgian, as Clerk of the Course, called a halt after 31.
His decision split opinion: McLaren’s Alain Prost wholeheartedly agreed; Toleman’s brilliant newcomer Ayrton Senna was fundamentally opposed. Two very different personalities and styles set on a collision course.
Prost had much to lose and Senna, making only his fifth GP start – and his second on Michelins following his team’s split from Pirelli – everything to gain. The Frenchman was leading the championship thanks to two victories with his new team. The Brazilian had already caught the eye with two sixth places: in South Africa and Belgium. The Frenchman had started from pole but was struggling with his brakes. The Brazilian had started from 13th and tweaked his suspension when he clouted a kerb at the Chicane. The Frenchman, having brushed a marshal attending a spun-and-stalled car at Portier and watched Nigel Mansell’s Lotus spin helplessly from a brief lead on lap 16, had lost his appetite. Senna, blessed (and cursed) with Tunnel vision, was thirsting for success. The gap between them was less than four seconds – the equivalent of one more lap at Senna’s closing speed – when the red flag was brandished and the result backdated.
This wasn’t the only great what-might-have-been: Stefan Bellof, another newcomer, was catching the pair of them. The German had squeezed onto the 20-car grid – his Tyrrell the only non-turbo to do so – and was busy making hay while the rain fell. He was 13 seconds behind Senna when the race was stopped.
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Could Senna and Bellof, neither a respecter of reputation, have shared the same piece of road without colliding? Probably not. Would canny Prost have let them get on with it in the hope of picking up the pieces? Probably. What was sure was that the awarding of half-points – because three-quarter distance had not been reached – could not reduce the significance of this race. Prost knew now that Senna was gunning for him. It was personal. Bellof, too, would clearly pose a major threat with the right weapon to hand. Both had bright futures.
Bellof’s would be tragically short. Killed at Spa’s sports car encounter the following September, he had been linked with Ferrari for 1986. Denied his third place at Monaco – Tyrrell had been retrospectively struck from the season because of a weight infringement – and now denied his big-break meeting with Enzo, we’ll never know how good he might have been.
Senna would not be denied. He, too, would be snatched away cruelly – but nobody, Prost in particular, could be in any doubt about his ability, speed and outlook. Those 32 laps at Monaco – Senna was still racing when Prost meekly parked up – were not bullet points. They constituted a new racing manifesto still in effect today. PF
About 100 Greatest Grands Prix | From the editor Damien Smith
The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…
This was a 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.
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.
You can download 100 Greatest Grands Prix in PDF form in the Motor Sport app.