The 1988 season is mostly remembered for the dominance of the McLaren MP4/4, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost winning 15 of the 16 races that season. The one they failed to win, however, was Monza.
The Italian Grand Prix was the twelfth race this season for the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships, and for 34 laps of the total of 51 it looked to be another dominating first-and-second for the red-and-white cars, with Ayrton Senna well ahead of Alain Prost – but a race is not finished until it is won. Engine troubles for Prost and a collision for Senna gave Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto the chance to take a 1-2 finish for Scuderia Ferrari.
They did so, with both cars finishing more than 35 seconds ahead of third placed man Eddie Cheever. The victory was very emotional for the team, as founder Enzo Ferrari had died earlier that year.
For the 80,000 tifosi none of what happened to the McLarens was of any importance. As Gerhard Berger sailed past the stricken McLaren the cheering drowned the sound of the cars, and preceded Berger all round lap 50 to reach a crescendo from the vast main grandstands as he streaked over the line at 185mph to start the last lap, hotly pursued by Michele Alboreto in the second Scuderia Ferrari car. The noise as the two Ferraris got the chequered flag must have reached up to ‘Zio Enzo’ up on high and for once the police and marshals did not try to restrain the crowds as the cars finished their slowing down lap and headed for the parc fermé.
By the time Berger, Alboreto and Cheever, who had come into a well-earned third place, appeared on the winners’ balcony overlooking the starting area the track was packed solid with humanity as far as you could see in both directions. Cheering, shouting, singing, waving flags, carrying banners and no doubt many of them weeping with emotion, they waited for Gerhard Berger to appear. When he did the clamour must have been heard in Milan, and when Michele Alboreto joined him it was even louder. It was Joy Day for Italian motor racing.
As one Italian journalist said: “It was a nice present from McLaren-Honda, and it went to the right man and the right team.” To which one replied: “Yes, and in the right place.” Any place other than Monza for McLaren-Honda to falter would have been a shame, and for any other team to have benefited would have been unjust. Enzo Ferrari may be dead, but long live Ferrari!