In the 1988, McLaren dominated F1, courtesy of a transition in rule changes that McLaren and Honda exploited to the full.
Between them Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had won all of the opening 11 races, and there seemed to be no reason to expect they wouldn’t complete a clean sweep by the end of the season. The race at Monza would be held just a few weeks after the passing of Enzo Ferrari. For the second race in a row Nigel Mansell was sidelined with illness, and for this race Williams would draft in Jean-Louis Schlesser, who had one previous unsuccessful attempt to qualify for a Grand Prix back in 1983, but who had testing for Williams. Schlesser, who would go onto win the World Sportscar Championship for Sauber-Mercedes in 1989 and 1990, and the Dakar Rally in his own buggy in 1999 and 2000, will always be remembered for this his one and only F1 start!
Senna led Prost on an all McLaren front row, with the Ferrari’s of Berger and Alboreto on the second row. At the start Prost made an initial better getaway than Senna, but Senna stormed around him on the inside into the first chicane. Senna had a gap of 2 seconds over Prost by the end of the first lap and seemed set for a comfortable drive to his eight victory of the season. Prost’s engine was giving him trouble, and he dropped back, but kept the pressure on Senna, until his problems became terminal, Prost dropping back into the clutches of the Ferrari’s and eventually retiring in the pits.
Senna now had a straight run to the finish, but was trying to take it easy to avoid a repeat of Prost’s engine failure and to conserve fuel, having been pushed by Prost in the early stages of the race.
The Ferrari’s were chasing, but still Senna seemed to have the race in hand. But with just 2 laps to go, Senna came up to lap Jean-Louis Schlesser for the second time at the first chicane, and the McLaren dream of a 100% season went out the window. Senna, famous for being ruthless when dealing with lapped traffic, dived up the inside of Schlesser coming into the corner as Schlesser locked his brakes going deep into the chicane.
Senna sliced past, but as he exited the final section of the chicane was clipped from behind by Schlesser, who had been left suddenly with no road to drive on as he recovered from his lock up. Senna was bumped into the air and was out, and Ferrari now had a 1-2 in the bag with Berger leading Alboreto home for a famous Ferrari victory the old man would have been proud of.