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Engaging ‘grumpy old man’ mode, 1988 was one of the best seasons in Formula One history. While others will claim a season where one team won 15 of 16 races is boring, in what other year do you have two generation-defining drivers battling so hard they completely decimate the opposition?
1989 had the drama, 1988 was about the racing and McLaren, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna dominated.
After the excitement of going to the 1987 Grand Prix, I was now a totally committed Formula One fan. I watched every race of 1988.
My awesome mum allowed me to go to bed early and wake up to watch the European races and the North American rounds I taped on VHS. I didn’t miss one. You can imagine my excitement when my dad confirmed we were going back to Adelaide.
For 1988, my Dad purchased grandstand tickets on the exit of what’s now known as the Senna chicane. This grandstand was an awesome place to view the acceleration of a turbo-powered Formula One car. But that wasn’t the only difference to 1987 for what was becoming our annual Adelaide trip.
Back then, my dad enjoyed a drink quite a lot. Having heard most of the drivers were staying at the Hilton, Dad and I would head back there after each day.
While he began the process of becoming sloshed at the lobby bar, I would wait and pounce on any driver as they entered the hotel.
I got to meet and have photos with Senna, Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger to just name drop a few. Every driver I asked for a photo was kind and talkative, especially Senna and Mansell.
It’s nice to be able to look back and tell people my childhood heroes were so considerate to a kid who idolised them. These photos currently sit on the wall of my Dad’s study and they bring back memories every time I look at them.
One thing that stands out in my mind about 1988 was how hot the weekend was. Saturday qualifying was boiling for the fans, so for the drivers it would have been unbearable.
As was the story of the year, Senna had taken pole with Prost in second. Mansell had pulled out a cracker of a lap during the Friday session that locked in third on the grid just in front of Berger. Watching the drivers back then manhandle the cars in qualifying trim with 800+ BHP engines is something that I will never forget.
Race day was not as hot as Saturday, but was still a muggy and uncomfortable day. At the race start, Prost managed to jump Senna and take lead, with Berger following behind in third.
Could I see my favourite driver win?
The opening laps were enthralling, with Prost driving flat-chat to pull out a gap. Much like the year before, Berger had some terrific car speed and was harassing Senna for second place.
On lap three, Berger made an extremely awkward pass on Senna and began bridging the 4.8-second gap to Prost. The next ten laps were tense as Berger started cutting into the gap.
Back then, there were no big screens showing action from around the track. The trackside commentary was often drowned out by the noise of the cars so you only had visual confirmation that a gap was increase or decreasing. Lap after lap, I could see Berger getting closer and I didn’t like it one bit. On lap 14, Berger made the pass and took the lead. My nine-year-old heart sank.
Thankfully, Rene Arnoux took Berger out of the race on lap 25 while being lapped and order was restored.
After that, it was a fairly pedestrian race apart from the small battle between Nelson Piquet, Riccardo Patrese and Mansell and an incident on lap 45.
Right in front of us, Pierluigi Martini spun while, behind him, Maurício Gugelmin slammed on the brakes to avoid him but was punted in the rear by Satoru Nakajima.
Gugelmin and Nakajima retired on the spot. A piece of Nakajima’s front wing sat on the grass in front of our grandstand and everyone was eyeing it off for pilfering after the race.
Unfortunately for us, a marshal claimed it with two laps to go. I am still mad at that marshal.
Prost ended up winning and I couldn’t have been happier. I was genuinely pumped to see my hero win. With the intensity of the early laps, 1988 felt much more exciting than the 1987 race.
This would be nothing compared to 1989 though!