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Ayrton Senna Special: Part 24 - Last year at Lotus - The victories at Monaco and Detroit (1987)

  • Published on 18 Apr 2019 21:00
  • comments 1
  • By: Fergal Walsh

In our previous edition of the Ayrton Senna special we talked about the 1987 season. This season was an excellent one for Ayrton, given the circumstances. In this episode, we will go into the two victories won by the yellow Lotus: Monaco and Detroit. The victory in Monaco would serve as a basis for bigger things. 


The FISA decided to expand the field by  six cars for the 1987 Monaco Grand Prix. Normally there was only room for 20 cars on the grid on the street circuit in the principality. For 1987 26 cars would start. This change immediately sparked a discussion as the faster drivers would find the track 'too busy'. Since there was no pre-qualification in 1987 it meant that every driver who was registered for the Monaco Grand Prix could qualify. Drivers were worried about the large speed difference. This immediately became clear when Michele Alboreto and Christian Danner made contact on Thursday.

Alboreto crashed with his right rear wheel against the left front wheel of the German at Casino. Alboreto's car hit the guardrail and made flight through the air. There was not much left of the Ferrari that had also caught fire. FISA was of the opinion that Danner was to blame for the accident and decided to disqualify him for the weekend. Many drivers thought this was too much of a punishment, even Alboreto said that Danner was not guilty of the accident. 

During the qualifying session Nigel Mansell was out of reach. The latest generation car with a Honda engine was 0.672 seconds faster than Ayrton Senna's Lotus. Ayrton's lap was actually of the same calibre as Mansell's pole lap. That turned out to be the case when we look at the number three on the grid, Nelson Piquet, who was 1.716 seconds slower than the polesitter. If we look further in the field we see an 8.628-second gap to the slowest driver on the grid, Pascal Fabre.

Although the 107% rule for Formula 1 cars was only introduced in the mid 90's, we can say that Fabre's AGS-Ford would be well above this limit. With a pole position time of 1:23.039 and a 107% time of 1:28.852 it would mean that only sixteen drivers would be allowed to start this Grand Prix. With a difference of no more than 5.813 seconds, even Ayrton Senna's teammate, Satoru Nakajima, would not be able to qualify for the race. This was the benchmark in the 1980s. Looking at all the other Grands Prix of the year 1987 we would end up on a starting field with an average of 16 drivers thanks to the dominance of the Williams-Honda. 

When we take a closer look at the rest of the grid we see Alain Prost in fourth with a deficit of 2.044 seconds. All the other drivers, from fifth position on the grid, were more than three seconds slower on a 3.328-meter long circuit. On average, the drivers were one second slower per kilometre. At the start Mansell shot away like a rocket. Ayrton followed but didn't come close to the Englishman. Mansell steadily built up a big lead. After 23 laps Mansell had an 8.733 second lead on Ayrton Senna, Piquet was third, 18.216 seconds behind and Michele Alboreto was almost half a minute behind in his Ferrari.

The pace was so strong that Mansell had already started catching up with those who were lagging behind after just fourteen laps. However, it turned out that Mansell was not in for a victory. A broken exhaust and turbo proved to be a problem for the Englishman. Senna had already overtaken Mansell before Tabac on the 29th lap, after which the Williams driver drove into the pits. In the pits, the loss of speed turned out to be terminal. Mansell was out of the race. Ayrton was the leader of the race and had a 16.607 second lead on Nelson Piquet's Williams. In the course of the race not much more happened. Alain Prost dropped out with two laps to go, which caused Michele Alboreto to move up to third place. Nelson Piquet finished second, 33.212 seconds behind. The Monaco Grand Prix didn't have a tyre stop for the top two, which indicated that the softest compound Goodyear had brought along was sufficient for a whole race distance. 


Normally the Detroit Grand Prix and the Canadian Grand Prix were held as back-to-back races. On Friday Nigel Mansell was the fastest in the qualifying sessions. The Englishman was ahead of Senna and Piquet. It was already indicated on Friday that the active suspension of the Lotus was a good fit for the bumpy street circuit of Detroit. It rained in the night from Friday to Saturday and therefore the track was 'green'. On Saturday, Ayrton went under Mansell's time, the Englishman reacted and drove one second faster than the Brazilian in his last attempt. Mansell achieved his fourth pole position in five races. Ayrton, like me Monaco, would start second. 

It rained from Saturday to Sunday. On Sunday morning the drivers had to deal with a wet track during the warm-up, but during the race the asphalt was dry. At the start, the Williams of Mansell took off like a hare. Senna followed in second place, Piquet was third. Teammate Nakajima drove over the rear wheel of his predecessor in the backfield and the car shot into the air. Nakajima was able to continue on his way, but in the end he had too much damage and ended up in the wall.

The Japanese driver was the first to drop out of the race. Nakajima was also involved in an incident in the first lap in Monaco. On the tenth lap Mansell had a five-second lead over Ayrton. Alboreto was in third position, his gap to  Ayrton was 23 seconds. It seemed that the Detroit Grand Prix would be a copy of the Monaco Grand Prix that was held three weeks earlier. It turned out that this was not the case, Ayrton had problems with high brake temperatures and decided to drive very quietly. His hope was that the problem would solve itself. For seven laps he let the Ferrari of Alboreto come closer. The Ferrari dropped out when he caught sight of Ayrton. The Ferrari's gearbox was broken. Ayrton decided to close the gap towards Mansell. 

On the 26th lap Mansell had an 18.8 second lead over Ayrton. The Englishman gotecided to go for a tyre stop on the 34th lap. It took so much time that the Englishman came out third on the track behind Prost. Mansell also complained of cramps in his leg. Ayrton, on the other hand, was on his way. The Brazilian's tyres got better with the lap and Ayrton managed to be faster on the 39th lap than his own qualifying time. Ayrton realised that his old tyres were faster than the newer tyres on the other drivers' cars.

The Lotus crew did some dummies to show that Ayrton would make a stop for new tyres. In the end this didn't happen and he drove to his second consecutive victory without any threat. At the end of the race there were concerns about a possible downpour that would fall. However, it would never rain during the race. Ayrton finally won by 33.819 seconds ahead of Nelson Piquet. It was the second time in a row that a 1986-specification Honda engine could beat the 1987-specification Honda engine.

After the race the American television station CBS had an interview with the winner: 

Q: We are here with the winner, Ayrton Senna. Ayrton when did you decide not to make a pit stop during this race?
A: Sometime during the race. It had to do with the speed of the race and the speed of the other drivers. Halfway through the race I made the decision not to come in. I was able to save my tyres at the start of the race, partly because I had some braking problems. I had to slow down and that was one of the reasons I was able to save my tyres.

Q: You were more than 20 seconds behind at one point, were you worried?
A: You're always worried because you don't get it again. You just have to go for it.

Q: What can you tell us about the 'active-suspension'?
A: It was perfect. I didn't have any problems with it. The only problem I had was a long brake pedal. That was actually my only concern. Then I was worried about the tyres, because I didn't know if they would last for the whole race. Nobody knew if the tyres would last, and I was the only one who went for it. In the end she worked great and I was able to finish the race.

Q: Goodyear predicted that the tyres would stay good until the end of the race. Did you have any problems at the end of the race? 
A: I didn't have to push anymore because I already had a big lead. That made it a lot easier for me. 

Q: One last question: Where did you get the flag?
A: From almost the same spot as last year. Someone was encouraging me and I saw him standing with the Brazilian flag and I stopped. 

After the race in Detroit, Ayrton took the lead in the championship. He was two points ahead of Alain Prost and six points ahead of Nelson Piquet. Nigel Mansell, undisputedly the fastest man during the first five races of the season was fifth, twelve points from Senna. It showed that Ayrton had taken full advantage of the 'bad luck' of others. The Williams FW11B was by far the fastest car in the field. Despite this, only one victory so far was achieved by the team from Grove. Prost and Senna had two each. Eventually Williams got the hang of the reliability and it would claim the title in the constructors' championship for itself.

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 1 - Ayrton and karting - The early years
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 2 - Ayrton and karting - International

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 3 - Ayrton and karting - The tough trip in Buenos Aires
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 4 - Ayrton and karting - The last race
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 5 - Ayrton in Europe - Formula Ford 1600 and the battle with Rick Morris

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 6 - Ayrton in Europe - A glorious year in Formula Ford 200
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 7 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - Senna in a class of his own
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 8 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - First signs of pressure and dirt game 
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 9 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - Shame at Oulton Park and another title
Ayrton Senna Special Exclusive Interview: Allen Berg: Ayrton drove against the British system
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 10 - Ayrton as a test driver - The first experience in a Formula 1 car
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 11 - Ayrton as a test driver - A selection of different teams
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 12 - Ayrton at Toleman - Why the choice for Toleman was the right one
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 13 - Ayrton at Toleman - Monaco Grand Prix - Stefan was faster
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 14 - Ayrton at Toleman - Monaco Grand Prix - Post-race
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 15 - Ayrton at Toleman - Competitive in a new car with two podiums
Ayrton Senna Special: Technical Analysis 1: The Toleman TG183 (1984)
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammate 1: Johnny Cecotto
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 16 - Ayrton at Lotus - Facial Paralysis
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 17 - Ayrton at Lotus - Masterclass in Estoril
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 18 - Ayrton at Lotus - An unfortunate first half of the season
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 19 - Ayrton at Lotus - Many podiums and a victory at Spa-Francorchamps
Ayrton Senna Special: Technical Analysis 2: The Lotus 972
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammate 2: Elio 'The Gentleman'
Ayrton Senna Special: Extra 1: Veto 1

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 20 - Second year at Lotus - Titanium competition with Nigel Mansell
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 21 - Second year at Lotus- A good start and the lead in the championship after Detroit (1986)
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 22 - Second year at Lotus - Decay in the second half of the season (1986)
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammates 3: John Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute (1986) 
Ayrton Senna Special: Extra 2 - Gérard Ducarouge - Designer of Ayrton's winning Lotus (1986)

Ayrton Senna Special: Exclusive Interview 1: Allard Kalff: 'I still honour Roland on April 30'.
Ayrton Senna Special: Exclusive Interview 2: Allard Kalff: "I only saw at Linate Airport that Ayrton had died"
Ayrton Senna Special: Exclusive Interview 3: Allard Kalff: "The accidents in 1994 were coincidence, in 1995 nothing happened"
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 23 - Last year at Lotus - Excellent season with the 1986 Honda engine (1987)

Replies (1)

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  • JuJuHound

    Posts: 215

    It's really shame Mansell lost the tittle in 1987. Both races- Monaco and Detroit Ayrton won partly because of using actice suspension and mostly due to unlucky Nigel retiring both races due to problems with the car.

    • + 0
    • Apr 19 2019 - 09:29

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