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Racing With Ayrton Senna: 1988 Japanese Grand Prix

Frozen in Time: 1988 Japanese Grand Prix

What

Japanese Grand Prix

Where

Suzuka

When

October 1988

“You can easily over-compensate and let it affect you for the rest of the race but as soon as he got to Turn One it was about a recovery drive. It gave him the title. A masterful display of overtaking, of driving in damp conditions on slicks and commitment and focus that allowed him to come back from what could very easily have been a podium position rather than a win.”

BBC F1 analyst and former F1 driver Allan McNish

The all-important pass to first place. (Screengrab from 1988 Japanese Grand Prix, editorial use only)

The all-important pass to first place. (Screengrab from 1988 Japanese Grand Prix, editorial use only)

Race Brief

Suzuka, the brilliant, challenging twisty, classic F1 track became the arena for the 1988 World Championship. Would Ayrton Senna win it? After all, all he needed was this one win to be crowned king. Inevitably, he was on pole, with the Professor coming up second. This was becoming a habit!

The lights went off and Alain Prost shot off into the distance, followed closely by Gerhard Berger in the Ferrari, and Ivan Capelli in the March-Judd. Ayrton Senna had stalled, his hands up waving to warn the drivers behind him. Incredibly he restarted and joined the race at 14th place. This was not going well.

Up ahead, Prost was building up a comfortable lead. But it would not be enough. Senna was already charging through pack, climbing up steadily, 14th to 6th to 3rd, and then finally right behind him. He had passed them all, Riccardo Patrese, Thierry Boutsen, Alessandro Nannini, Michele Alboreto, Berger and finally Capelli.

The end it seemed had already been scripted, as Senna took the lead on the 27th lap. The race was over – even as rain started and the track started getting damp. The race ended though with Senna, Prost and Boutsen taking the first 3 spots. Capelli retired with electric problems.

The win! (Screengrab from the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix, editorial use only)

The win! (Screengrab from the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix, editorial use only)

The Ayrton Moment

It’s not easy, hunkering down and riding the tidal wave, knowing what’s at stake. Ayrton Senna collected 13 pole positions and eight wins for McLaren in 1988. But the 1988 world championship would not be an easy game to win.

Senna stalled at the starting line, but somehow managed to start his car. He started the battle to the top the only way he knew how – fast and focused. By the 3rd lap, Senna was up to 5th place, and 4th place, four laps into the race. He passed Berger and Capelli before getting down to chase his teammate and championship contender Alain Prost. It started to rain somewhere in between. It was Senna-esque weather. He charged on, plotting his next move.

Then, on lap 27, Senna waited for the backmarkers to come up, and for Prost to hesitate, just a tad. It was enough to pass him, all guns blazing, pulling away, and leading the charge for the remaining laps. He crossed the finish line 13.363s ahead of Prost, and as the 1988 world champion.

The win was typical Senna – overcoming a challenge, to maintain focus and to fight on, to pursue the dream of a championship. It was a race to remember.

NEXT: 1989 San Marino Grand Prix

PREVIOUSLY: 1988 British Grand Prix

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Categorised in: Ayrton Senna, Faces

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