Ezno Ferrari, the legendary founder of the team that still bares his name, died less than a month before the Italian Grand Prix of 1988.
That year McLaren arrived at Monza having won all 11 rounds of the championship, with Ayrton Senna claiming 7 victories and Alain Prost 4. Qualifying had been nearly as one sided: 10 poles for McLaren and one for Ferrari, courtesy of Gerhard Berger at Silverstone.
And after qualifying at the Italian track there was no reason to beleive McLaren’s run would end, with Senna taking pole from Prost. Behind them were the Ferrari pairing of Berger and Michele Albereto, but few were putting their money on the cars from Maronello. If you wanted a safe bet in ’88 you backed a McLaren.
With Nigel Mansell suffering from chicken pox (deeply unpleasant for a 35 year-old) Jean-Louis Sclesser deputised in the the Williams. It was only the second time Schlesser had attempted to make a grand prix (he’d failed to qualify in France five years earlier) and he was to play a a key role in the race.
At the start Prost got the jump on Senna, but the Brazilian braked later in to the first chicane to lead as the cars crossed the line to complete lap one. Behind the Frenchman followed the Ferrari pairing, and with the McLarens scampering off in to the distance the race showed little sign of being any different from the previous 11.
Then on lap 35 Prost pulled out with engine problems, giving McLaren only their third DNF of the season to that point. Still, Senna was dominant out front. The Ferraris would surely be hugely pleased with taking the lower steps of the podium.
But as the race progressed the red cars began to close on Senna. Did the Brazilian have a problem, or was he merely pacing it to the flag, mindful of Prost’s problem?
That would soon be irelevant. As Senna began lap 50 of 51 he came upon Schlesser’s Williams- and that’s when Enzo Ferrari reached down from the sky and completely altered the course of the race.
Actually we’ve no proof of that, but it’s a decent explanation of what happened. However the more conventional story goes like this: Senna tried to lap Schlesser at the Ascari chicane, coming from a long way back as the Frenchman locked up.
But as Senna slipped around him Schlesser got on the kerbs and failed to get his car turned in properly. He nurfed Senna, bouncing the Brazilian off on to the exit kerbs from where he couldn’t recover. He was out; Berger led; Albereto was second. The Tifosi went wild.
And so Gerhard completed the final two laps to come home for a famous win. It was fitting that Enzo’s beloved red cars should win at their home circuit at this grand prix, the first since his passing. Since that day Ferrari have won 7 more Italian Grand Prix but none have been quite so special or emotional as this.