MEMORY LANE: 1987 Australian Grand Prix

Aaron Noonan

Wednesday 22nd March, 2017 - 8:55am


Ayrton Senna at 1987 Australian Grand Prix

It’s Australian Grand Prix week in Melbourne and there’s no more famous name associated with Formula 1 than Ayrton Senna.

Our AN1 Images Memory Lane photo today beautifully captures Senna at work, tilting that famous yellow helmet towards the apex as he pilots his Lotus-Honda past the iconic Stag Hotel in Adelaide at the 1987 Australian Grand Prix.

Of course, this section of the Adelaide Parklands street circuit hasn’t been used since the American Le Mans Series New Year’s Eve ‘Race of a Thousand Years’ sportscar race in 2000, given the Supercars use a shorter 3.2-kilometre layout that bypasses this Stag Hotel area.

The ‘87 Adelaide race brought to a close Senna’s three-year term with Lotus, the Formula 1 team that gave him the chance to move from ‘promising young gun’ into F1 Grand Prix race winner. For 1988 he was moving to F1 powerhouse McLaren along with his beloved Honda power plants.

His last season in the distinctive yellow Lotus 99T Honda had been a good one – the addition of Honda power to Lotus allowing Senna’s obvious talent to convert into results.

He recorded wins at both Monaco and Detroit as well as podiums at Imola, Hungary, Monza, Japan, Silverstone and Hockenheim.

Hopes were high for Senna’s local Australian fans when the brilliant Brazilian qualified in fourth position behind Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari, Alain Prost’s McLaren and Nelson Piquet’s Williams.

1987 World Champion-elect Piquet won the start after an aggressive move on an in-form Berger in the Ferrari while Senna and Prost diced for third.

The race was held in searing hot conditions that resulted in many cars struggling with brake temperatures. It had been an issue for the Lotus-Honda all week and many in the media noted how Senna had started the race with additional air ducts channeling cooler air to the front brakes.

Prost and Piquet’s challenge to Berger soon faded with their brake pedals, leaving Senna the only likely threat to a Ferrari victory. The Brazilian pressed leader Berger hard late in the race, reducing the margin to 7.3 seconds, however the Austrian responded to increase the gap to 10 seconds, just the cushion he needed to take the win.

Senna’s second place gave him his first podium finish in an Australian Grand Prix in his third attempt – but all was not said and done.

Post-race scrutineering discovered the additional brake ducts on the Lotus and they were observed to have been 10mm too wide so Senna was excluded from the race!

Despite the exclusion the brilliant Brazilian and the Lotus 99T Honda still achieved third place in the ‘87 World Championship – but for 1988 greater things were still to come as he moved to McLaren – and the rest was history.

Senna’s birthday was yesterday (March 21). He would have turned 57.

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