Enxo Ferrari, who founded his great eponymous racing team in 1929, passed away on August 14th, 1988.
Two weeks later his famous red cars race at Spa-Francorchamps but came away empty-handed, while rivals McLaren claimed their eleventh win in as many races and eighth one-two. Prospects for the next event, Ferrari’s home race, looked gloomy.
But fortune smiled on the tifosi 25 years ago at Monza.
Race day dawned with the familiar sight of two McLarens on the front row of the grid. The Ferraris lined up behind them: Gerhard Berger swapping between his race and spare car as the team tried to pin down a niggling fault, Michele Alboreto making his final appearance in his home race as a Ferrari driver.
From the start things didn’t go quite according to plan for McLaren. Shortly after pulling away Alain Prost’s engine began to misfire. But Ayrton Senna assumed his usual commanding lead.
On the 15th lap Lotus driver Satoru Nakajima – who like the McLaren drivers was Honda-powered – pulled into the pits to retire with a faulty piston. This raised few eyebrows, but when Prost’s fault became terminal 20 laps later Senna was put on alert.
He had plenty of time to spare – at this point he was 26 seconds up the road from Berger. He backed off, took his time in traffic and looked after his engine. With two laps to go the Ferraris were closing in and Senna was beginning to feel the need to pick up the pace.
It was at this point he came across the Williams of Jean-Louis Schlesser. Deputising for an unwell Nigel Mansell, Schlesser had qualified two seconds slower than his team mate on a track with seven corners.
Wasting no time, Senna thrust his McLaren down the inside of Schlesser at the first chicane and took up the racing line. The Williams driver thumped into the side of the MP4-4, tipping it into a gravel trap.
While Senna impotently spun his wheels the two Ferraris motored past to a famous victory, and most of Italy erupted in applause. It was the only time McLaren were beaten all year.