Formula 1 Print 1987 - Ayrton Senna driving his Lotus-Honda 99T at the 1987 Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City
Ayrton Senna racing his Lotus-Honda 99T during the 1987 Mexican Grand Prix at Mexico City on October 18th. The race was won by British F1 driver Nigel Mansell driving a Williams FW11B who was 26 seconds faster than his Brazilian team mate and eventual 1987 World Champion, Nelson Piquet (BRA). Senna unfortunately was forced to retire on lap 54 with a clutch problem.
The 1987 Formula One season was the 38th season of Formula One motor racing. It featured the 1987 FIA Formula One World Championship for Drivers and Constructors which commenced on 12 April 1987 and ended on 15 November after sixteen races. This championship also encompassed the Jim Clark Trophy and the Colin Chapman Trophy which were contested respectively by drivers and constructors of Formula One cars powered by naturally aspirated engines.
The 1987 World Championship featured a season long duel between the two Williams drivers: Brazilian two-time champion Nelson Piquet and British driver Nigel Mansell. The pair won nine of the season's sixteen races in their Williams FW11Bs, although they had only one win from the first five races. Their mid-season dominance eliminated all competition however. Mansell took six wins compared to the more consistent Piquet with three. The increasingly antagonistic duel came to a premature end at the Japanese Grand Prix when Mansell crashed heavily in practice incurring a back injury that put him out for the two races left in the season.
The battle for third in the championship was also resolved late in the season, with Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna driving a Lotus 99T finished nine points clear of outgoing world champion Frenchman Alain Prost (McLaren MP4/3).
Williams-Honda dominated the Constructors' Championship, claiming 137 points compared to McLaren-TAG on 76 points.Lotus-Honda claimed third in the points resisting a late season charge from Ferrari led by Austrian driver Gerhard Berger who won the final two races of the year in Japan and Australia.
Two new sub-championships were created for the 1987 season. The Jim Clark Trophy for drivers of cars powered by naturally aspirated engines and its parallel championship for constructors, the Colin Chapman Trophy, helped encourage the teams who did not have access to turbocharged engines, while at the same time acknowledging the forthcoming ban on turbos for the 1989 Formula One season. British driver Jonathan Palmer (Tyrrell DG016) won the championship, wrapping it up early in Japan and finishing 21 points ahead of his French team mate Philippe Streiff. As Tyrrell was the only two-car team in the Colin Chapman trophy, they dominated. Philippe Alliot's results in the Larrousse-entered Lola LC87 were sufficient to earn him third place in the Jim Clark Trophy and Lola second in the Colin Chapman Trophy.
1987 saw new rules introduced in an effort to not only make the returning normally aspirated more competitive, but to reduce costs and also slow the cars down with a resultant increase in safety. As part of a two-year plan to phase-out turbos from Formula One, the FIA introduced a mandatory pop-off valve to the turbo powered cars which restricted boost to 4.0 bar, thus limiting engine power (one unnamed team manager was heard to remark at the season opener in Brazil that the pop-off valve was "the only crude piece of engineering on a modern Grand Prix car", while another said that the FIA would not get rid of the valves as it would rob them of getting their stickers on the cars for free). However, advances in engine development, aerodynamics, tyres and suspension meant that, despite the turbo limit, the leading teams such as Williams, McLaren and Ferrari regularly recorded faster times than they had in 1986 when turbo boost was unrestricted. The FIA also banned the super soft (and sticky) qualifying tyres in 1987, which eliminated the unpopular practice of having to find a clear lap on tyres which were good for two flying laps at best.
The Lotus 99T was a Formula One car designed by Gérard Ducarouge for Lotus for use in the 1987 season. AfterRenault pulled out of F1 at the end of 1986, Lotus signed a deal with Honda for use of their turbocharged 1.5-Litre engine, although due to Honda's already existing deal with the Williams team allowing them exclusive use of the 1987 spec Honda RA167-E, Lotus had to make do with the Honda RA166-E spec engine from 1986. As part of the deal, Lotus agreed to sign Honda's test driver Satoru Nakajima as team mate to Ayrton Senna. Nakajima, who many felt was only in F1 because of his nationality and because of Honda, brought little to the team other than Honda.
Lotus had also lost long time major sponsor John Player Special who were replaced by Camel as title sponsor, meaning the black cars with gold sign writing of the previous seasons were replaced by bright yellow with blue sign writing.
The 99T was the second Lotus chassis to be fitted with electronic active suspension after the team had experimented with the system on the Lotus 92 used in the first part of the 1983 season. The system's benefits of a consistent ride height with no pitch or roll in the chassis came at a cost, as the system added significant weight to the car (approx 25kg or 55lb) and also robbed the Honda turbo of approximately 5% of its power (the RA166-E was rated at approximately 800 bhp (597 kW; 811 PS) with 1987s 4.0 Bar turbo boost restriction). Ducarouge clawed as much performance back by spending many hours in the wind tunnel to compensate, although by the end of the season Senna was describing the car as nothing more than the previous year's 98T with a Honda engine instead of the Renault, and there were few in the F1 paddock outside Lotus who disagreed with him. The 99T was generally regarded as the more bulky of the cars that won a Grand Prix in 1987 with the Williams FW11B, McLaren MP4/3 and Ferrari F1/87 all regarded as better aerodynamically than the Lotus. Despite this, the 99T (especially in Senna's hands) was often among the fastest cars in a straight line.
The 99T proved to be competitive in Senna's talented hands, the Brazilian won twice and scored six other podium finishes during the season. The car was very good around slow and bumpy circuits like Monaco and Detroit (where Senna won both his races that year). This helped him and the team to third in the drivers' and constructors' championship. Senna also provided a poignant footnote that season, as his win at the United States Grand Prixwas the final ever Grand Prix win for the team that Colin Chapman made famous. Senna would move to McLarenfor 1988 and would win his first World Drivers' Championship. The season was also Senna's second worst in terms of pole positions, scoring only one in Round 2 at San Marino, his worst season being his rookie year in 1984 with Toleman.
Nakajima, who for his part very much overshadowed by his team mate, proved to be a steady, if unspectacular driver. He openly admitted that he favoured the faster circuits such as Silverstone, Hockenheim, Österreichring and Monza, but was ill at ease on the tighter circuits. He qualified 17th in Monaco and finished 10th, 24th in Detroit before crashing out on lap 1, and 17th in Hungary before suffering a broken drive shaft on the first lap. Nakajima's best finish in his first season was a 4th at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. He finished the season in 12th place with 7 points scored. Nakajima's best qualifying performance came in Round 15 in Japan for what was the first Japanese Grand Prix since 1977. At the Honda owned track of Suzuka, Nakajima qualified in 11th place, only four places and 0.962 seconds behind Senna. It was the closest he would qualify to his team mate all season (as it was his home track, Nakajima had actually completed more laps at Suzuka than the entire F1 grid combined).
The 99T was updated for 1988 to 100T specification; the car technically was virtually unchanged, except for a redesigned nose section, longer wheelbase and tighter rear bodywork (helped by the reduction of fuel tank capacity from 1987's 195 litres to 150 litres), and the dumping of the active suspension for a more conventional setup. New team leader, 1987 World Champion Nelson Piquet (switching from Williams) used the car to score consistently but was unable to add any further wins to Lotus' score sheet however, with three 3rd placings his best finishes.