1986 Italian Grand Prix
- Sunday, September 7, 1986
- Gran Premio d'Italia
- F1 World Championship
The red light went out, the green came on and the 26 starters on the grid surged forward. In less than 100 yards the black and gold Lotus of Ayrton Senna suddenly slowed dramatically as the clutch gave out and he came to rest with cars passing him on both sides, while the razor-sharp reflexes of his fellow Formula 1 drivers prevented him being hit up the back as he sat in his Lotus, with his arm raised.
When the regulatory fire-prevention cars and the doctor’s car had gone by, Alain Prost was unleashed from the pit road and set off in hot pursuit, while Senna managed to make his Lotus drag itself off the track to the right, where he parked it and retired. It was interesting that in the turmoil of being stranded in the middle of the track, with cars whizzing by on both sides, he had kept the Renault turbocharged engine running, until it was clear for him to turn right and limp away with just sufficient friction in the clutch to move slowly. Many people thought a drive-shaft had broken, or a drive-shaft joint, or even a gearbox shaft, but it turned out to be a simple matter of the clutch. He had sensed trouble as he slipped the car into gear when the red light came on, indicating four to seven seconds before the green light would shine, because the clutch began to drag and he had had to give a dab on the brake pedal to stop creeping forward.
So what caused this most unusual scene at the start of the Italian Grand Prix? Practice and qualifying had not gone too well on Friday, mainly due to many engines blowing up and coating the circuit with oil, but Saturday improved, though not for everyone. The Italian crowd had felt cheated on Friday because Alboreto had not appeared, and while they love Johansson, Michele Alboreto in car number 27 is their real favourite. “Albert” had had a slight accident on his motorcycle and had fallen off and hurt his shoulder, so he was resting, but he was back on the scene on Saturday, though the partisan crowd was rather small by Monza standards. Throughout the day the tempo was very slow and there seemed to be none of the usual urgency about the afternoon qualifying hour. It was as if everyone was merely going through the motions of Formula 1, without much enthusiasm. For those of us close to the scene the pace of the BMW-powered Benettons, driven by Fabi and Berger, is something we have become used to, so when they started topping the lists the “pit lane habitués” took it in their stride.