On This Day in #F1: 14th May 1988

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1988: Monaco – The greatest ever qualifying lap

“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Papa?” the young boy asked as he selected another mayonnaise covered fritte and consumed it greedily. “Yes, Pascal?’” he turned to his son and placed his arm around his shoulders.

“Do you remember the first time you came to see Formula One? Was it the same as today?” he questioned.

“Yes – I remember it.” His eyes misted over, “Twenty-six years ago. On this day, in fact. I wasn’t much older than you when Grand-papa brought me to Monaco.” He reminisced, “It was very different then, the cars evolve but so do the circuits.”

He pointed, “You see those candy-striped kerbs that the cars were riding. On the track? Well, that used to be concrete walls and you could really tell who the best drivers were back then…”

His first visit to a Grand Prix with his papa; just closing his eyes alerted his senses once more to the sounds, the smells and most of all the unfocused sights. He still remembered. He still recalled feeling his spine tingling for days afterwards at the memories.


That Thursday had been a shock to the system as he experienced Grand Prix cars in their most brutal form for the first time. They shredded his senses as they navigated the funnelled streets at mind-blowing speed – how could anyone control these things.

When a driver crashed out the cars seemed to disintegrate – such was their fragility – and yet like a spider their tenacious grip of the tarmac contradicted what the mind could process. By the end of the day he could barely identify the different drivers and their cars but one name stood out when the tannoys could be heard – Senna.

He and his father had spent the Friday in Nice but all he could talk about was the previous day’s events and his questions were answered with smiling patience.

On the Saturday they walked around sections of the track, taking photos at will before they found their seats in the grandstand at the entry to the Swimming Pool complex. His father had been coming for years and said this was the best vantage point – this daunting and unforgiving section showed the drivers commitment fully.

$_35Neither the warmth of the sun nor the scent of the sea – lazily floating past on the breeze – distracted him from flicking through the race programme trying to learn the names of the cars and drivers. When asked if he was hungry, he merely shook his head oblivious to the question but he always returned to the page – the bright yellow helmet captured his imagination.

About fifteen minutes before qualifying the sounds of engines could be heard just over the avenue of trees beyond the swimming pool. Computers attached by their umbilicals pulsed the engines and monitored the data. Despite it being a balmy afternoon he sat shaking and listened to the commentator running through the previous session’s times.

When they were finally unleashed he heard the bass of countless horses rumbling the ground which mortals normally walked over. The cars could be heard all around the track, the cacophony of noise reverberating off of the ponderous apartment buildings. Flashes of colour could be seen navigating up the hill to Casino Square before they were caught again as they flashed through the Harbour chicane. The noise raced ahead of the projectiles and as they emerged from Tabac they roared straight towards him.

As they prepared their aim towards the apex they lifted, braked and settled the car to turn into the left hander. Barely inches from the walls they threaded their way through and roared away in pursuit of a goal unseen.

The variety of technicolor that passed through seemed endless. The V8 in the rear of Mansell’s car screamed out its pain in comparison to the baritone rumble of the turbos… and in the confusion a red and white Mclaren slipped past.

He’d missed which one it was but the hillside scoreboard showed number 12 with a time of 1’25’6. Barely three minutes later this had shrunk to 1’24.4. The sister car was struggling to get within two seconds.

As the car emerged from the Harbour chicane, he focused intently on the flashes of bright colour piercing the gaps in the Armco barriers and he watched it swing into Tabac.

Ayrton-Senna-1988_2448041As Senna approached the first corner of the complex it seemed as though the actual track straightened up, the corner morphed into a shallower radius and as he glanced both the barriers with the sidewalls of his tyres he left behind a sliver of rubber on the concrete. It transcended physics and seemed almost surreal as he brushed through with barely a lift. He was on a different plane to everyone else.

The following lap he coasted through, seemingly scared of the same concrete he had previously embraced with a lovers touch.

That was it. His final time of 1’23.998 shook the Principality. 1.427 seconds quicker than his team-mate. Everybody present knew they had witnessed greatness.

Some years later he listened to Senna interviewed about Monaco 1988.

“When I am competing against the watch and against other competitors, the feeling of expectation, of getting it done and doing the best and being the best, gives me a kind of power that, some moments when I am driving, actually detaches me completely from anything else as I am doing it…corner after corner, lap after lap. I can give you a true example I experienced and can relate it to you…

“Monte Carlo, ’88, the last qualifying session. I was already on pole and I was going faster and faster. One lap after the other, quicker, and quicker, and quicker. I was at one stage just on pole, then by half a second, and then one second…and I kept going. Suddenly, I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And I suddenly realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously.”

“I was kind of driving it by instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel, not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit for me was a tunnel. I was just going, going – more, and more, and more, and more. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more. Then, suddenly, something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and I realized that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are. Immediately my reaction was to back off, slow down. I drove back slowly to the pits and I didn’t want to go out any more that day. “It frightened me because I realized I was well beyond my conscious understanding. It happens rarely, but I keep these experiences very much alive in me because it is something that is important for self-preservation.”

The sound of engines accelerating stole him from his memories and he glanced at his son and smiled. He would experience today through his son’s eyes.


3 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 14th May 1988

  1. Beautiful writing Carlo – loved the different style and different point of view. Perfect videos too:)

  2. You lucky beast to have witnessed that first hand.
    Another point resonates with me –
    “the bass of countless horses rumbling the ground which mortals normally walked over”
    – reminds my of my first race meeting at Oulton Park, the way my body felt the rumble of the big V8s in the Ford Galaxies as they passed – motor racing should be an assault on the senses

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