32 – 1988 Japanese GP


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

He’d come this close, nothing would stop him now. Was this destiny? Perhaps, if you believe in such things. For the rest of us, it was a performance of sheer guts and determination from the most driven man we’d yet seen in Formula 1. He just refused to lose.

But that first title so nearly slipped from Senna’s grasp when he stalled from his pole position. The slope at Suzuka’s startline saved him, Ayrton just managing to bump start his Honda as McLaren team-mate Alain Prost disappeared into the lead. Now the comeback began.

As Senna charged, Prost found himself distracted – not the first time in ’88 – by the ‘minnow’ that was Ivan Capelli in his Leyton House. The turquoise March even led briefly, before the Italian’s brilliance was curtailed by electrical failure. But now Prost had Senna on his tail.

View this race on the Database and Archive

Unlucky with traffic and managing a gearbox niggle, Alain had no answer to Ayrton. When the rain came, Prost hung on – his weakness in the wet was always a myth – but ultimately ceded the race and the world title. He’d scored more points than his team-mate, but on the curious dropped scores rule Senna was champion.

In later years Suzuka would be the scene of more controversial, untidy – and plain ugly – championship showdowns. But in 1988, before the war that was to come, it brought out the best in Ayrton Senna. Now he’d achieved what had driven him from the start: he was champion of the world. DS

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.

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