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SUZUKACIRCUIT MOTORSPORTS LIBRARY

1988 Vol.1Advent of the Senna era! He won his coveted first F1 Championship title at Honda’s home circuit, Suzuka!

Senna, looking nervous before the race in which his first title is to be decided

Senna, looking nervous before the race in which his first title is to be decided

From that year, the McLaren was mounted with a Honda engine that was said to be the strongest at that time. The team’s driver lineup was also the strongest, with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, who moved to the team from Lotus. McLaren had won 13 rounds out of 14 before Round 15, the Japanese Grand Prix, with Senna winning seven and Prost six races. McLaren also recorded eight 1-2 finishes. Naturally, the championship title contest has focused on these two drivers.

Tense atmosphere before the start of the race

Tense atmosphere before the start of the race

Start of the race. Senna was already caught back in the pack

Start of the race. Senna was already caught back in the pack

Prost on the track

Prost on the track

Senna could secure the championship title beyond contest if he won this race. Prost, trying to deter this outcome, pushed hard from the qualifying sessions. But he qualified second, 0.3 seconds slower than Senna, who took the pole position. This was their tenth one-on- one fight staged from the front row since the 1988 season. Nobody doubted that they were set to see the two engage in amazing battles all across the grid. Then, something extraordinary happened at the start. Senna stopped after having moved for an instant when the signal turned green. It was an engine stall. Suzuka’s main straight is however, a downward slope. His car began to move slowly and the engine restarted.

From far back in the pack, Senna began to battle back courageously. Under difficult conditions with rain falling at times, Senna passed cars running in front of him one after another and on lap 27 he finally tucked in behind the race leader, Prost. Senna overtook Prost at the first turn of lap 28 to come out in the lead. Prost tried to follow him but the gap continued to expand. Senna took the checkered flag with a large 13-second lead over Prost for his eighth win of the season and his first F1 World Championship title. He made his victory run while wiping the tears streaming from his eyes. On the podium, Senna expressed his joy with his whole body and held the trophy on high. A rainbow appeared in the sky above Suzuka circuit as if in celebration for the new champion, Ayrton Senna. Senna the “genius,” who had been displaying spectacular driving since his rookie year in the F1 World Championship, finally got the F1 Championship title at Suzuka, Japan in his fifth year. This race will be handed down as one of the great legends of Ayrton Senna, the man who made history time and again in F1.

Senna won his first F1 title at Suzuka

Senna won his first F1 title at Suzuka

Senna who holds the trophy on high on the center step of the podium

Senna who holds the trophy on high on the center step of the podium

A rainbow appeared in the sky above Suzuka circuit

A rainbow appeared in the sky above Suzuka circuit

1988 Vol.2Seventh at a checkered flag from an engine stall
1988 Japanese Grand Prix, Nakajima racing with the spirit of his deceased mother

Nakajima ran Suzuka with the spirit of his recently deceased mother

Nakajima ran Suzuka with the spirit of his recently deceased mother

In his second year of participation in the Formula One World Championship, Satoru Nakajima performed excellently at times to compete in the top group, finishing sixth place in the season opener and taking sixth on the starting grid in Round 4. In the qualifying sessions of the Japanese Grand Prix, Nakajima proved himself a good match with his teammate and three-time World Champion, Nelson Piquet to end the sessions with an equal best lap time, right down to a thousandth of a second. According to the regulations, which prescribed that priority be given to the driver who set the lap time earlier, Nakajima qualified just behind the team’s ace driver. Nonetheless, for Nakajima this sixth place was his best F1 qualifying position ever. The car and the engine were in good condition. He was expected to be able to get a better position in the race, and a podium finish was no longer merely a dream. Race day arrived with very high expectations for him.

Second turn after the start

Second turn after the start

Nakajima on the track

Nakajima on the track

Nakajima (right) runs with the supports of his fans

Nakajima (right) runs with the supports of his fans

But his engine stalled at the start as if it was synchronized with pole sitter Ayrton Senna. “I think my mother was watching me from somewhere above. Perhaps she gave my car a push from behind,” said Nakajima after the race. Actually, he was informed that his mother had died early in the morning of the first qualifying day. His engine restarted miraculously and Nakajima ran throughout the Suzuka race as if spirit of his deceased mother was with him. Nakajima overtook the cars in front of him one after another following the bad start that left him back in 20th place. Finally, he finished the race in seventh place, just one position away from scoring a point. He could not get the championship point that had been his aim, but his outstanding the result and exciting driving enchanted many people and would remain engraved in their memories. Even now, this race is counted as one of the best races Satoru Nakajima ever ran. On his victory lap after the race, loud cheering and clapping ran around the circuit together with Nakajima, who drove his car with one hand raised to the fans.

Nakajima, chasing down a car in front

Nakajima, chasing down a car in front

F1 cars running in front of stands filled with fans

F1 cars running in front of stands filled with fans

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