The 1988 British Grand Prix (formally the XLI Shell Oils British Grand Prix) was a Formula One motor race held on 10 July 1988 at the Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone. It was the eighth race of the 1988 Formula One season. The 65-lap race was won by McLaren driver Ayrton Senna after he started from third position. Nigel Mansell finished second for the Williams team and Benetton driver Alessandro Nannini came in third.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Silverstone Circuit, many facilities had been added to the circuit, including a Press Centre complex, an internal ring road, debris fencing, wide screens to show live action as broadcast by the BBC, and a 600-metre long hospitality tent for corporate guests. However, the weekend was overshadowed by the death of the RAC Chief Executive Peter Hammond in a car crash on the way to the track.
After weeks of speculation, Nigel Mansell announced that he would race for Ferrari in the 1989 season, encouraged to go to the Italian team by a series of high speed accidents on Friday as a result of problems with Williams' reactive suspension, as well as a streak of seven consecutive retirements.
Williams were in major trouble during qualifying. With Mansell only 13th in Friday Qualifying and Riccardo Patrese 30th and seemingly set to fail to qualify, some 14 seconds from 26th place, the team's Technical Director Patrick Head made a snap decision to dump the reactive suspension until the end of the season. This they did overnight between the Friday and Saturday sessions of the event after previously telling both drivers that changing to the more conventional suspension was next to impossible without months of work. Head said in an interview on race morning that "It's a bodge frankly. We've put steel mechanical springs and dampers on. We've changed the front struts into dampers, designed some new bits and pieces which we machined up overnight. We did some new pistons for the front struts...it's a bit of a bodge as I said".
The grid had an unfamiliar look to it. The McLarens were suffering handling problems because of new bodywork introduced that was more suitable for high speed circuits coming up later in the season (the turbo snorkels were moved from on top of to inside the sidepods at an R&D cost estimated by Ron Dennis to be at more than £150,000 for what he described as nothing more than a small aerodynamic gain with no increase to Honda power). Meanwhile, the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto got the jump on everyone and occupied the front row of the grid. Berger's pole time of 1:10.133 was three seconds slower than the 1987 pole time set by Nelson Piquet. Although on pole, Berger was far from confident going into the race stating that the Ferrari's could not live with the McLarens on fuel consumption, words echoed by Alboreto. For his part Alboreto secured his first front row start since he scored pole in the opening race of the 1985 season in Brazil, it was the last time the Italian would start an F1 race from the front row. Senna and Prost qualified in 3rd and 4th place, the first time no McLaren had been on the front row of the grid since the 1987 Mexican Grand Prix and first time in 1988 that neither McLaren was on pole.
During the Friday qualifying session, Senna had two high speed spins at Stowe corner as both he and Prost searched in vain for balance with their cars' new bodywork (Prost claimed that he was not able to get to within 2 seconds of his times in testing at the circuit from a month earlier, claiming that with full tanks in testing he was easily lapping in the 1:10s). The team reverted to the cars having the turbo snorkels for the rest of the weekend which restored some of the cars' balance, but the time lost and the Ferraris with their better top end power put pole out of reach of even Senna (Berger explained that with only one real slow corner on the circuit, Silverstone suited Ferrari, which suffered from a lack of throttle response in low gears, more than any other on the calendar). Further testing at Silverstone before the next race in Germany revealed other factors and not the missing snorkels were the cause of the cars' imbalance and the McLarens did not appear with the turbo snorkels for the rest of the season.
An exceptional performance put the naturally aspirated March-Judds in 5th and 6th, in front of the turbos of Lotus and Arrows, while Mansell and Patrese qualified in 11th and 15th respectively with Patrese almost 18 seconds quicker in Saturday qualifying than he was on Friday. Despite Patrick Head describing the converted suspension as a bodge, both Williams drivers expressed their delight at their cars' new 'conventional' suspension, saying it was amazing how much more confidence they had in their cars knowing that they would now behave the same way lap after lap and not different from lap to lap and sometimes corner to corner as it was with the reactive cars.
Both Zakspeed turbos failed to qualify for the race showing the cars' lack of handling and lack of power from the team's own 4 cylinder engines with Bernd Schneider the slowest of the 30 drivers, some 7.9 seconds slower than Berger's Ferrari. His experienced team mate Piercarlo Ghinzani fared little better, being almost 6 seconds slower than the Ferrari. Also failing to make the grid were the EuroBrun of Oscar Larrauri and the Ligier of Stefan Johansson who, as usual, complained of very little grip from his JS31 (upon hearing Maurício Gugelmin tell of being able to take Club corner flat in top gear in his March 881, Johansson told it wasn't like that in the Ligier, adding that even in the dry it took a wet weather technique to drive it). The Coloni of Gabriele Tarquini failed to pre-qualify, ironically with a faster time than Schneider managed in qualifying.
The race was held in pouring rain, the first wet race since the 1985 Belgian Grand Prix. Senna made an excellent start to tail Berger and Alboreto into the first turn. Alboreto had actually beaten Berger away but with the inside line the Austrian pulled ahead through Copse. Senna was soon past the Italian and unsuccessfully challenged Berger for the lead. Prost's start was awful and he fell back to 9th place. On lap 3, Ivan Capelli dropped back with electrical trouble.
By lap 14, Maurício Gugelmin, Alessandro Nannini and Mansell were fighting for 3rd place. One lap later, Senna finally took the lead under the Bridge chicane, overtaking Berger and lapping Prost, who was running very slowly, at the same time. Using his skill in wet conditions, Senna managed to pull away and build a lead. On lap 20, Mansell passed Nannini for 4th, after which the Italian spun at Club and let Gugelmin through. Two laps later, Mansell passed Michele Alboreto in the Ferrari for 3rd, the Italian was already receiving alarming messages from his Ferrari's fuel read out. On lap 24 Prost retired claiming handling problems of his McLaren. He would cop plenty of flack from the French press who saw it as Prost giving up rather than race on with some French commentators labeling the double World Champion a "coward".
Seeking out the wet parts of the track to cool his tyres, Mansell drove very well to set the fastest lap at an average speed of 206 km/h in difficult weather track conditions. On lap 50, he caught and passed Berger who only 20 laps before had a 50-second break on the Englishman and held 2nd place until the finish, some 23 seconds behind Senna. As he'd predicted the Austrian was suffering with a fuel deficit and was losing places rapidly. On the very last corner, he ran out of fuel and dropped from 5th down to 9th losing places to Piquet, Warwick, Cheever and Patrese in the run from the Woodcote Chicane to the finish line. The same problem happened to Alboreto, who had run out of fuel on lap 63.
Nannini, despite two further spins, claimed his first Grand Prix podium finish helping further justify Benetton's decision to sign him. Gugelmin collected his first World Championship points, and Nelson Piquet and Derek Warwick rounded out the top 6.
Nigel Mansell set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:23.308 on lap 48. This compared to the lap record of 1:09.832 he set during his 1987 win at Silverstone in dry conditions.Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.