Feature image: rossoautomobili.com
The weather in Monza on the day of September 11th 1988 was hot and sunny, but the temple of speed was in remembrance. Ferrari and their beloved Tifosi were in mourning after the passing of Enzo Ferrari only a few weeks earlier, at the age of 90. After McLaren dominated the opening 11 races of the 1988 season, Il Commendatore had last seen his team last win a race at the end of the 1987 season where Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto took a 1-2 victory in Adelaide.
Ferrari would field the same line-up for the following season hoping to get a better result than the fourth they finished in the Constructors Championship behind Lotus, McLaren and champions, Williams. However, with a new season came slightly new regulations with saw Ferrari revise their front and rear-wings as well as a slightly lower engine cover due to the reduction of how much fuel you were allowed on board.
The Ferrari challenger for the 1988 season, the F1/87/88C, was one of the fastest cars on the grid but were absolutely no match for the Honda-powered McLaren MP4/4, driven by none other than Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Honda had created a brand new V6 engine in-line with the reduced fuel limit in the regulations meaning that their engine would be a lot more efficient than the likes of Ferrari’s, who had only updated the engine they ran through the previous season. Fuel consumption became a big problem for the Berger and Alboreto as they found it extremely difficult to keep up with the McLaren’s who didn’t need watch their fuel half as much.
Friday practice started off with the sport paying homage to the late Enzo Ferrari, allowing the Ferrari’s to be the first cars to take to the track in the morning. The scarlet cars cemented themselves onto the second row of the grid later on in qualifying, with Berger just ahead of Alboreto.
The defending World Champion, Nelson Piquet had a nightmare with his new team Lotus in qualifying. In the Honda powered 100T, both drivers struggled on a track where the Lotus should have been one of the fastest on the track. The team had then discovered that the mechanics had got mixed up and set the cars up for the Imola instead of Monza, leaving quite a few mechanics red-faced in the garage.
In front of the two Ferrari’s on the grid were of course the McLaren’s, with Ayrton Senna the only driver to qualify under 1m26s with his time of 1m25.9s. Only three points separated him from his rival and team-mate Alain Prost in the championship and things were just starting to heat up between the Brazilian and the Frenchman.
As Murray Walker told the audience of his dismay at how long the lights took to go out, the two McLaren’s bolted off the line. Prost quickly took the lead but due to a misfire, team-mate Senna regained it as they headed down to the Rettifilo chicane and round the Curve Grande. The two Ferrari’s filed into place as the rest of the grid struggled to leave the first chicane in one piece. Berger instantly took chase as the McLaren’s started to build a lead but chose to drop back in order to save fuel so he could actually finish the race.
With Prost’s engine misfiring becoming more and more of a problem for him, he chose to turn his engine boost up to compensate which brought him problems further down the line…
With the two McLaren’s comfortably leading, Prost started to set his sights on the Brazilian ahead of him and cut down his lead to just 2 seconds at lap 30 when he stopped in the pits.
On his return to the race, Prost’s misfire problem had become terminal, and he was forced to retire the car as Berger and Alboreto both passed him on track. This left Senna out in front with a commanding 29 second lead on the Scuderia which led him to ease his pace to bring the car home.
Much to the delight of the local fans, his efforts were discarded by a mistake from the Williams driver Jean-Louis Schlesser who was filling in for Nigel Mansell after the Brit came down with chickenpox in the Summer and was still recuperating from the effects. Berger had reduced Senna’s lead to just 5 seconds with only 2 laps till the chequered flag.
Heading towards Rettifilo, with Schlesser ahead of him, Senna saw the Frenchman lock up and head for the gravel trap in front of him. Unbeknownst to Senna, Schlesser caught the Williams as it was locking up and managed to keep it on the road before shunting the race leader off the road and into a spin. Ayrton Senna’s afternoon was over and McLaren’s hopes of winning every race of the 1988 season were dashed.
Berger stormed past the scene of the accident and inherited the lead with team-mate Alboreto taking P2 at the same time. Emotions ran high as the crowd roared when the scarlet cars headed around the Parabolica for the final time. ‘Ferrari wins! Ferrari second!’ Murray Walker exclaimed as Berger crossed the line ahead of the Milan-born Michele Alboreto.
‘The first Italian Grand Prix since the death of the great Enzo Ferrari has seen his beloved scarlet-coloured cars from Maranello honour his memory with first and second places, and it is a truly happy crowd’, he continues.
The fans were more than happy, they were ecstatic. After losing the Father of Italian motorsport, there is nothing in the world that could have made the Tifosi happier than a Ferrari 1-2 at home. English journalist, Nigel Roebuck, reported that a fan approached Jean-Louis Schlesser after the race and shook his hand, saying ‘Thank you, from Italy’ in regard to his shunt on the race leader.
It was Ferrari’s 11th race victory at Monza, with the previous one coming nine years earlier when South African Jody Scheckter won in his 312T on his way to championship glory. 10 years after Berger and Alboreto’s 1-2, Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine brought home Ferrari’s next 1-2 at Monza, two years after Schumacher won his maiden victory with Ferrari at the same venue.