1988 San Marino Grand Prix – Senna’s first victory with McLaren
Any race in Italy always brings out the people’s love for Ferrari –especially when there’s a local driver in the team, as was the case of Michele Alboreto in 1989. But few believed the team could do well that year. The previous Grand Prix – which opened the season – had taken place in Brazil, where McLaren won practically from start to finish.
Ayrton Senna had the pole position, but was unable to fight for the win with Alain Prost due to a problem with his gearbox before the start of the race, which forced him to use the spare car. The Brazilian had a brilliant race at Jacarepaguá, after starting from the pit-lane, but received a black flag from the race directors, who ruled the use of a spare car illegal.
The teammates would face off again at Imola and, once again, McLaren had no other team in its way. During the qualifying sessions, Senna scored the pole position with a time of 1min27s148, 0s771 quicker than Alain Prost. But the real story was the gap between them and Nelson Piquet, who took third place on the starting grid: 3s352 – a huge difference in F1. The headline on Sunday’s Gazzeta dello Sport read: “Senna, a pole position missile”.
At the start, the Brazilian jumped ahead and dominated the first two laps. Prost had a bad start and fell to seventh place before the first lap was over. Piquet took the second spot for the time being. But the McLarens were so much better than the other cars that it took just eight laps for Prost to reclaim the top two positions for his team.
From then on, the race was marked by two thrilling aspects: Senna’s first win as a McLaren driver and the fight for third place. Nigel Mansell was the only driver able to overtake Piquet’s Lotus, but the Judd engine powering his Williams gave out in the 40th lap. Benetton’s Alessandro Nannini also gave Piquet a hard time. Both of them almost crashed when the Italian tried to overtake him, but Nannini spun out on his won a few moments later, falling down to seventh place. Driving at home, he was still able to regain one position, finishing in sixth place and scoring his first point ever in F1. His teammate, Thierry Boutsen, finished in fourth place, right behind Piquet. Ferrari’s Gerhard Berger finished in fifth.
After 60 laps, Senna had lapped almost every driver. Only Alain Prost finished the race in the same lap as the Brazilian. The British team’s party was made even more special due to the fact they were celebrating their 300th race on that May 1st, 1988. The following race was scheduled to Monaco, two weeks after the San Marino GP.