It was a day memorable only for the brilliance of Prost. As a race, the 1986 Monaco Grand Prix was a dead loss, the usual procession through the streets, with no one able to offer any challenge to the world champion - who was equally impressive in taking pole position. Rosberg, Senna, Mansell, Arnoux and Laffite were in a strong, hard, race. But it was not the same one as Prost's. Two wins in a fortnight for McLaren-TAG.
The only battle of note was a lengthy affair featuring Piquet, Brundle, and Tambay, which ended horrifically when Patrick's Lola somersaulted over Martin's Tyrrell. Both survived without serious hurt - and so, therefore, did the Monaco Grand Prix, anachronism of Formula 1.
No one really noticed Alain Prost's pole position lap on Saturday afternoon, but then the world Cchampion likes it that way. You can stand at Casino Square and revel in the derring-do, the sideways lunges as a thousand-plus horsepower tries unsuccessfully to transmit itself to the bumps and potholes of this absurdly self-important pocket Principality, remind yourself once more that this is something you could never do - and then watch Prost. Hey, what's the problem? He doesn't waste time with opposite lock and wheelspin. Maybe I could do it - at that speed, anyway. And then you hear that the speed was the pole, the first and only lap at more than 90mph... All a bit of a mystery.
On Saturday afternoon Martin Brundle betrayed one of the 10 Commandments in the Grand Prix Driver's Holy Book: "I've got to admit it," he said, looking over his shoulder, "I got a clear lap..." I thought I was hearing things. 'Traffic' is the all-purpose reason for a lack of pace in Formula 1, used week in and out. But in Monte Carlo conversation with a racing driver invariably begins with "On my first run I got held up by Arnoux/de Cesaris/Patrese/one of the Osellas," which is followed by "And then on my second run I lost at least a second getting around Arnoux/de Cesaris" etc, etc.
Now here was heresy from Brundle. And more of the same came from Prost - who actually set his stunning time on the fifth lap with his second set of qualifiers.
"Time was running out - maybe, seven or eight minutes left," he grinned. "I was out thinking maybe this lap, no, someone up ahead going slow, but not so slow I can easily pass - I'll cruise this lap, save the tyres, maybe next time, no, someone coming out of the pits, in my way at Ste Devote. Finally I could see nothing in front, so this had to be the one..."
By this time the rest were powerless to respond, Senna, on pole position last year and the fast man on Thursday, had used both sets of qualifiers. Ayrton, indeed, made four runs altogether on Saturday afternoon, but never found that elusive clear lap. And he was one you believed, for he could not approach the remarkable 1m22.340s which he set at the end of the morning session.
Senna's best official lap, indeed, was 1m23.175s, and that was not quick enough even for second spot, which went to Mansell, a man not even qualified after the first day! Verily, the Monaco Grand Prix was curious and unpredictable as ever, but by two o'clock on Saturday Alain Prost was on the pole. By nearly half a second. He really must be phenomenally fortunate with those clear laps of his.
Cynicism aside, traffic is of course a problem here like nowhere else, particularly when the attitude of several drivers is less than helpful. The modern Formula 1 car is way too big for these streets - two of them stampeding side by side down to Mirabeau seem to fill the road. And by the end of practice the grid did look rather distorted, with Rosberg down in ninth, Piquet an astonishing 11th.
I like grands prix where pre-set testing is out of the question, where driver acrobatics and a dash of luck come into play. Some grids you can estimate fairly accurately before leaving Heathrow. And usually they have close to a two-by-two symmetry.
Nigel Mansell was stellar in second qualifying © LAT
Not so here. Look at the top 10 in qualifying, and you will find nine different cars, only McLaren getting both their men in. You will see Prost first and Rosberg ninth, Mansell second and Piquet 11th, Senna third and Dumfries 22nd. For one weekend, at least, the usual Gang of Five was broken up.
Alain's practice days were not entirely without incident. He was fastest on Thursday morning, minutely ahead of Senna, but in the afternoon brushed the barrier before the new chicane, aborted the lap and came in for the T-car, setting fourth best time right at the end of the session. Saturday morning too, was unsatisfactory. "I ran with the five-speed gearbox on the first day, but first was too long, so I decided to have the six-speed one." This was done during the session, and after that Prost was further delayed with a fuel leak. Only right at the end did he get out with Q-tyres on the car.
In the afternoon though, no problem. Merely a matter, he said, of waiting for the right opportunity. A clear lap at Monte Carlo is the eye of the storm, but Alain's guile helped him create it. He could be forgiven his quiet smile of satisfaction afterwards.
"Rain at the weekend?" Rosberg said after the first day. "I heard that was the forecast. I'd be quite happy if it rained on Saturday, I must say..." At that point in the proceedings, Keke was second fastest, behind Senna. He had spent most of the day cruising, running in gearboxes and not much enjoying it. But in the timed session we saw the familiar Rosberg, grazing the barriers at the exit of Casino Square, hauling the car along. Never was a McLaren so out of shape.
In the even, of course, Saturday was dry, and Keke improved by almost a full second - dropping in the process from second to ninth. "The car is fine, no complaints," he smilingly shrugged. The only problem was traffic, but there's no point in complaining about that here - it's the same for everyone."
Alongside Rosberg's team-mate, on the front row, was Mansell's Williams-Honda, and this was something of a saga. Last week I tipped Nigel to win the race - and on Thursday afternoon he wasn't even in it! The opening day of Monaco 1986 was a nightmare for the team, with Piquet 13th, Mansell 22nd. In the course of it no fewer than four Honda V6s came massively unstitched...
In the morning, Nigel had one go, but real disaster came in the afternoon. First Nelson blew up, and transferred to the spare FW11, and then it was Mansell's turn for another. It would have been good if he could have taken over the T-car when Piquet had finished with it - only this one, too, expired! Williams were fresh out of cars.
Honda once had a similar day, at the Osterreichring in 1984. "Wrong chip," was the comment at the time. Was it the same on this occasion? Williams personnel were tight lipped, but did allow that it had been something trivial and that they did not anticipate more of the same on Saturday. Nigel, in the meantime, had an agonising 36 hours. His courage and flair have always been seen to great advantage at Monte Carlo, and now a shower at the wrong moment could keep him from the race.
Happily, the dreary forecasts were wide of the mark. Through grand prix week, indeed, we had the best weather for five years. On Saturday morning Mansell was smiling confidently. But his day could easily have been ruined by one Rene Arnoux...
"Four times during the session," Nigel related, "I got blocked by Arnoux. And three times I backed off, let him go. But the last time was right at the end of the session - I was on qualifiers and looking to see what sort of time we could do. I was on a quick one, and he was tooling back to the pits, I thought he had to be letting me through..."
After the swimming pool area, approaching Rascasse, Mansell went for what he thought was a gap left by the Ligier driver. As he got alongside the two cars touched, and instantly the blue one was off the ground. After a mid-air spin, it crunched backwards into the guardrail.
The monocoque of the JS27 was written off, but the Williams fortunately survived with nothing more than a bent steering rack. "Dunno what he was thinking about," Nigel said. "Four times it happened - and I don't believe he was doing it deliberately. I genuinely think he never saw me once..."
Vital, as early as possible in the afternoon, was to get into the race, at least make sure of that. A 'banker lap', the Williams team called it. There would be opportunity later for the real quick one.
The session started. Senna had time for one quick lap before de Cesaris's Minardi Moderni anointed Tabac with Agip. Immediately everyone came in, quick times out of the question for a while. But as the cement dust went down, the clock kept running. The session was not stopped. And in the silence of the bay a single engine was fired up. There was oil down, yes, but there was also a clear track, and Mansell was going out.
Soon he had his 'banker lap', and was into the race. As the oil ceased to be a problem he went out again, still on the original set. That brought a low 24, and the car felt very good. On the second set he went for it, and it produced a stunningly quick - and lurid - lap such as we saw from him at Kyalami last year.
Ferrari reverted to Brembo brakes for Monaco © LAT
"No," he said afterwards, "I wasn't held up, but I had to pass Patrese in the tunnel - flat in sixth! And before that I clipped the barrier coming out of Casino Square. Problem was that I slid square into it, with both left hand wheels - and I couldn't get off it! I couldn't lift off, either, so I just sort of ran down it for about a hundred yards..."
It was true. I noted the serrated edges on the wheel rims, and later saw the marks on the guardrail. All in all, he had a busy day on Saturday. And until Prost's remarkable sleight of hand, Nigel's 1m23.047s looked like the pole time.
Remarkable, all this, for who would have bet against Senna? He had been quickest on Thursday, certain there was a good deal more to come. "On that lap," he said, "I missed a gear at the chicane, and then on my second run I got held up by Johansson - I don't think he meant to do it, but it happened."
Saturday morning he had the Lotus-Renault more to his liking, and towards the end of the session went out on qualifiers. I happened to be in the Lotus pit, watching the Longines screen with Tambay. At the top stood the name Laffite, his time 1m24.408s. For a few seconds I looked away, and suddenly from Patrick came this melange of sound and mannerism which the French use to express incredulity. I glanced at the screen again: Senna, 1m22.340s.
On his next lap Senna did a 1m22.9s, despite being held up, so who was going to threaten him for pole position? Long before one o'clock the number 12 Lotus was in place, heading the queue at the end of the pit lane, its tyres encased in their blankets. Senna just sat there, adjusting his face mask, checking his mirrors for the umpteenth time. Then... the witching hour. A wave of the right hand, and the mechanics started the engine. The whole car clunked as 1st gear went in, and Ayrton was away. Immediately he was quick - 1m23.538s - but was some way from his morning time, then de Cesaris's oil went down, and in the course of a further three runs he skimmed off a further four-tenths, but every lap, he said, was spoiled by traffic. Then when Prost did his 1m22.6s, Senna had only used tyres available. During the last ten minutes Mansell also beat his time, so that meant no place on the front row.
Team-mate Dumfires, however, had no place on the grid. For the Scot practice could not have gone worse. On only his second lap in the opening Thursday session Johnny locked his brakes into Casino Square, clouted the barrier and wiped off the left front corner. When he went into qualifying, therefore, he was completely in the dark. Despite being fastest of all over the finish line (167mph), he was 10 seconds from Senna's pace, six from qualifying. Through the swimming pool complex he was understandably cautious after the morning debacle. After 11 laps, all on race tyres, he came in with a broken CWP.
On Saturday what he needed more than anything was laps, but gear selection troubles prevented a run on qualifiers. In the afternoon he was more than seven seconds quicker than before, but still not close to a qualifying time.
Fourth on the grid, next to Senna, was Alboreto, and this was the result almost entirely of driver inspiration. At Monte Carlo the Ferraris were woefully low on grip, and nothing like as competitive as at Imola a fortnight ago. Afterwards Michele almost shuddered as he recalled the final session: "It was, you know, one of those laps where you just close your eyes and go. I don't know how many times I hit the barriers, but all my four wheels were damaged..."
The problem, he went on, was acute understeer: "The only way to get the car round the corner is with the accelerator. You feel you are running wide, so you put on the power to bring out the tail. Then, suddenly, you are in a beeeeg slide... Not fun, really."
In one respect, however, Ferrari were in better shape. After all the problems with their home-grown brakes this year, they have reverted back to Brembo. Johansson used them at Imola, but they were fitted only for race day (without testing), and gave trouble. Here there was none, which was just as well for Monaco is the last place you need to worry about being able to stop.
Stefan had a wretched time. Despite being held up three times by "bloody de Cesaris" on Thursday, he was only a couple of tenths from Alboreto, but his frustration on Saturday was at boiling point. "A clear lap? Listen, I didn't even get a lap where I didn't have to brake hard for someone..." And I have to say that several of these incidents I actually witnessed. All Johansson's laps seemed to come from the bottom of the pack, and he finished 15th.
He was also rather shaken by an unpleasant incident right at the end of the session. As the Ferrari came into the pitlane it struck Jean Sage. The popular Renault man was thrown up in the air, and landed on his shoulder and head. Briefly it looked very serious, but at the hospital Sage's injuries were found to be 'only' concussion and a suspected broken shoulder. The incident had not been Stefan's fault, but understandably upset him considerably.
Gerhard Berger's fine season continues. At Monaco he was always among the fast men, and qualified a splendid fifth for Benetton, despite losing time with an engine fire on Thursday morning and a misfire on Saturday morning. The young Austrian was particularly fearless out of Casino Square, and it was no surprise to find him so high up the lists.
For a long time, though, Teo Fabi was looking like a possible non-qualifier, his car beset on Thursday with a curious bouncing at the front end, which rather recalled the 'porpoise' syndrome in the dreaded ground effect days. "We don't really know what it is," admitted team manager Peter Collins on Saturday.
"We've changed a lot of things at the front, and it's better today, but still there. What's odd is that it's only on one car." Teo concentrated on the spare for the final session (qualifying 16th) and decided to use it for the race.
Sixth was a major surprise: Patrese and the Brabham BT55. At Imola more than one team member darkly speculated that one car, maybe two, may not qualify at Monaco, but since then there have been changes. BMW, casting about for a reason for the 'laydown' engine's very poor acceleration out of slow corners, discovered that the fault - or much of it - lay in the exhaust system. On the bench they ran one with the system from the old BT54, and found a remarkable improvement.
For Monaco, therefore, the exhaust system was revised. As well as that, the turbo and left hand side radiator were positioned further back, which improved the car's weight distribution. Riccardo reported that the handling was very much better, and he was always in with a shout, second fastest for most of the final session. The late flurry of Prost, Mansell, Alboreto et al dropped him to sixth, but he was quite content - certainly a good deal more than de Cesaris, who was troubled with a misfire on Saturday afternoon, uniquely failing to improve on his Thursday time. In the end that scraped him into 20th, and last, position, barely a tenth quicker than Ghinzani's heroically driven Osella.
Piercarlo Ghinzani just missed making the making the grid for Osella © LAT
Until the contretemps with Mansell on Saturday morning Arnoux looked very much a contender if not for pole then for a slot in the top four. The little man was third on the first day, but after the shunt had to use the spare Ligier for the last session - and that had a 'race' Renault V6 in it. Remarkably he went a fraction quicker, but dropped to an extremely disappointed 12th, five places behind Jacques Laffite, whose Indian Summer continues unabated. "I made a mistake with my second set of qualifiers," the Ace of Stoke Poges admitted. "The fronts were not up to temperature when I started my run, and that gave me too much understeer."
Jacques started from row four, alongside Tambay, having his first outing in the Haas Lola-Ford. Traffic on Thursday afternoon reduced Patrick to a helmet-throwing rage, but he was always sure of a good grid position, delighted with the response of Keith Duckworth's new V6, equally pleased with the chassis.
"The car is phenomenally good at Casino - the best I've ever known. I'm going through there in fourth!" He, too, made a mistake with his second set on Saturday - but it was the very opposite of Laffite's. "I warmed them too long, and the car's balance was not so good. Pity - the car deserves to be higher than that."
Alan Jones was sixth fastest on the opening day, and happy with that, very smooth and determined. But the last day was a disaster, with a turbo failure in the morning and a shunt in the afternoon after a front wishbone failure. Only a couple of tenths faster than on Thursday, he plummeted to 18th, no barometer of his competitiveness.
There was unusual company for Brundle on the grid, for his Tyrrell 015 was sandwiched between Rosberg's McLaren and Piquet's Williams! Nelson had no further engine disasters on Saturday, but found the Honda V6 in his race car well down on power, and took over the spare car. Nearly three seconds faster than on the first day, he was nevertheless hampered with gear selection problems, and qualified only 11th.
Martin, one place ahead of him, was in a good frame of mind. First, there was that clear lap we mentioned earlier; second, the car was much better. "We desperately need some testing miles, but it's certainly improved since Thursday. We've played around with the ride height, and the car's much more 'pointy' than it was, which is what you need here. On top of that, I feel I'm driving much better here. Quite honestly, I enjoyed today."
Philippe Streiff, in an 015 car for the first time, was vastly impressed with its superiority over the old car, and did a fine job to qualify 13th after a fraught first day, which saw him in 24th after a broken oil line had caused the gearbox to explode. The Frenchman finally coasted to a halt in the tunnel, which brought the session temporarily to a halt.
Both Tyrrells, though, were easily in, and so were the elderly Arrows A8s of Boutsen and Surer, extremely reliable as usual. And Jonathan Palmer, too, made it for Zakspeed, despite having to pass a car on the outside in the tunnel on his quickest lap. The German team did have a T-car at Monaco (although it arrived only on Saturday), and this had carbon brakes for the first time. Palmer tried it in the morning, but stuck with his own car for the last session.
After the first day Piercarlo Ghinzani was into the top 20 with his venerable Osella-Alfa, very much a contender for any bravery award going, and I was sad that his 1m27.2s just failed to get him in. Others unemployed for Sunday, apart from Dumfries, were Rothengatter in the second Zakspeed, Danner in the other Osella and the two Minardis of de Cesaris and Nannini, both of which blew up before setting a single qualifying lap in the last session...
Sunday brought another travel brochure morning - the kind the Cote d'Azur promises, but rarely delivers. In recent years we have grown used to grey skies during race morning, and in fact the last completely dry Monaco Grand Prix was 1981. But this time there was never the slightest possibility of rain. The day was warm and blue and welcoming.
Well now, guess who was quickest during the warm-up? Here at last were some meaningful lap times, with the racing cars in trim to race rather than sprint for a couple of miles. And with this set-up, Prost looked even further out of reach, going a second quicker than the second man - Patrese! What's more, de Angelis in the other Brabham was not far yonder, fifth, so there was every reason to smile and hope in a pit untypically downbeat of late.
Piquet outpaced Mansell in the warm-up but would finish out of the points in seventh © LAT
Arnoux was predictably up there, third, and Rosberg all but matched him. Sixth we had Senna, followed by the Williams pair, Piquet in front of Mansell. But for some there were worries. Neither Ferrari driver had a good word for his car's grip, and Tambay's Lola was found to have an oil leak. Streiff had a sticking rear brake calliper on the Tyrrell, and for the race it was decided to abandon the carbon ones, revert to steel.
The opening laps of the race we could reasonably expect to be dominated by the Goodyear-shod cars, for the American company had counselled that softer rubber and a pit stop would be the fastest way. Pirelli runners, on the other hand, had different advice, and most were looking to go the distance on one set.
The build-up to the race in Monaco always seems interminable, because it is. For reasons never satisfactorily explained, they refuse to start the thing until 3.30, by which time the guests of Niarchos and Kashoggi have presumably had their fill of Dom Perignon and vacuous conversation (are you listening, 'Outraged' of Bavaria?), and are ready to turn their lively minds to something else. (That's it for now, 'Outraged'. No more biting social comment until I get to Hungary...)
There was biting comment of another kind from Patrick Tambay as race time grew near. During the pre-race laps at three o'clock it was found that the cam cover oil leak on the Ford V6 had not been cured, meaning the Frenchman would have to start in the T-car. At 3.15 he rushed round in it to stake his rightful place on the grid - whereupon the mechanics found a turbocharger oil leak! This they managed to change in seven minutes.
Poor Jack Lafferty had a more serious problem. At the last minute his engine was found to have a water leak, which consigned him to the spare Ligier. "I was still adjusting the belts in the car when the others left on the final formation lap," said Jacques, "and by the time I'd got my helmet and gloves on they'd all gone..." That meant starting from the back of the grid, rather than seventh.
There was considerable speculation, indeed apprehension, about the first corner. All being well, Prost should get to it first, but immediately behind him were Messrs Mansell, Senna and Alboreto, none of whom are backward in coming forward. But it was all remarkably incident-free. Alain did indeed make the most of his advantage, but Ayrton was able to nick by Nigel before Ste Devote.
I watched at the new chicane, a painfully slow left-right, but one which found general favour with the drivers. The old one was indeed getting a little too quick, and this one at least promised the possibility of overtaking. Into it, on that opening lap, Prost led narrowly from Senna, with Mansell third, then Alboreto - and Rosberg! A series of remarkably audacious moves in the opening mile (particularly on the run down to Mirabeau) had lifted him already to fifth from his ninth grid position.
After Keke we had Berger, Patrese, Brundle, Tambay and Piquet. And in trouble already, stammering to the pits, was Fabi's Benetton. Eventually the Italian reappeared, but fuel pump and gearbox problems accounted for him after only 17 laps.
Jacques Laffite was forced to jump in the spare but still finished sixth © LAT
The first retirement, however, was that of Jones, and a most curious one it was. On lap three he had a coming together with Streiff at Tabac, both Lola and Tyrrell spinning without hitting anything. Alan, however, was pointing in the wrong direction.
"In the position I was in, it would have been very awkward to start doing three-point turns, so I thought the smart way was to go back up to the escape road and turn round in there, out of the way. So I get in there, my car completely undamaged - and the bloke operating the bar refuses to let me out again. So that was it. Might have expected it here..."
The Australian said he thought Streiff had missed a gear, and was letting him by into Tabac. Streiff's version was different: "I had the steel brakes, you know, and I was being very cautious with them, on full tanks. Maybe I braked earlier for the corner than he expected, I don't know, but he hit my rear wheel, which was broken." The suspension was also out of kilter, but Philippe pressed on.
Already we knew that the warm-up times had not played us false. Every time around Prost was a little further ahead of Senna, and there seemed little the Brazilian could do. "While we were on full tanks I could nearly keep with him," Ayrton said, "but as the fuel load lightened my car's handling got worse, and then he went away."
At the same time Mansell, in third place, could do nothing to pressure Senna. From the very beginning both Williams drivers experienced poor pick-up out of slow corners, their heads being jerked around like marionettes' as the power came in. This was, Nigel would say later, the most exhausting race of his life. And Prost acknowledged that, at a place like this, souplesse was more important that puissance. It rather demonstrated that, while Honda appear to have most of the answers, they do not yet have them all.
The most vigorous of the drivers during the early laps were undoubtedly Rosberg, looking constantly and urgently for a way past Alboreto, and Arnoux, still peeved about his artificially poor grid position, and keen to move up. Rene had the chicane particularly well worked out, positively sling-shotting out onto the harbour front and gaining several places on the run down to Tabac. In time he would deal with Boutsen, Piquet, Tambay, Brundle and Berger.
Arnoux's progress was a focal point of the race, in fact, for there was precious little else in the way of overtaking, and at the front there seemed no possibility of it. Alain Prost was going to walk this one. After 10 laps his lead was more than five seconds, and still he was barely revving the engine. Like qualifying, all a bit of a mystery...
Behind the world champion Senna looked equally secure in second place, and Mansell, too, was unthreatened in third. Rosberg could find no way by Alboreto, and this leading quintet had pulled clear away from the rest, now headed by Patrese, who overtook Berger on the 10th lap.
The real scrap of the race came along next. Brundle was being pressed hard by Tambay and Piquet - and Arnoux showed every sign of wanting to get by the whole lot of them. Johansson had got by Boutsen for 12th, and the Belgian was now under pressure from a frustrated Laffite. This being Monaco, however, there was little actual racing going on. It was crocodile stuff, with plenty of wheel locking and fist shaking, but it didn't add up to a whole lot.
At 20 laps the position was: Prost, still serene and now 10 seconds up on Senna, then Mansell, Rosberg, who had finally dealt with Alboreto, Patrese being pressured anew by Berger, Brundle, Arnoux, still charging along and now in front of Tambay and Piquet, who were being hauled in by Laffite. After that it was an unhappy Johansson and the Arrows pair. De Angelis, so fleet in the warm-up, had another miserable race, down on boost from the start, and was soon to retire.
Stefan's race was even more depressing - indeed he would almost certainly have rejoiced if the Ferrari had expired, and must have been tempted to give it an AJ Foyt 'clutch job'. (This is an ancient art, perfected by the Texan, in which the driver signals to his pit displeasure with his car by dipping its clutch as he passes by on full throttle. Retirement, as you might guess, follows almost immediately...)
Riccardo Patrese drove superbly but was robbed of points by an engine failure © LAT
Johansson, though, would keep going for the entire afternoon. Bad enough that his car's lack of grip bordered on the embarrassing. At least that he was expecting. More unexpected was that the gear lever knob, and some of the lever itself, simply broke off, leaving the hapless driver with only a couple of inches of jagged metal with which to change gear. And in Monaco you need to do that unceasingly. It has happened at Monaco before, as Richie Ginther will tell you, but that was no consolation to Stefan. By the end of the race the palm of his right hand was raw meat.
Even in a healthy car Monte Carlo is tough on the driver. In these silly streets, however, a problem easily sustained at a normal circuit becomes intolerable. Mansell, with his poor pick-up and belt in the back acceleration, was not enjoying the race at all. On lap 26 he lost third place to Rosberg, and a couple of laps later was the first of the significant runners to pit for tyres, the stop dropping him to fifth behnd Alboreto.
Lap 31: Keke in for fresh Goodyears, and that put Michele's Ferrari up to third. Patrese, too, came in for a routine stop, but the engine stalled and for endless minutes refused to be coaxed back into life. As at Imola Riccardo had driven superbly, and again was going to get less than his due. The Brabham-BMW did reappear later for a while, but eventually came to a fiery halt before Tabac, engine finished.
Patrese's misfortune elevated Arnoux to sixth, and the Frenchman's Ligier was on hard Pirellis, so no pit stop was in view there. One or two bodged tyre stops for the others, indeed, and Rene would be looking very fine indeed.
After his stop Rosberg needed less than four laps to catch and pass Alboreto, and just as he did so team-mate Prost came in for his tyre stop. It went well, but threading in and out of the pits is necessarily a lengthy business at Monte Carlo, and although Alain led Senna by more than 17 seconds e was quite a way behind the Brazilian when he rejoined.
The world champion's fans need not have worried. As soon as the new tyres were up to temperature Prost scythed into Senna's lead. By lap 41 he was right on the tail of the Lotus, thought about outbraking it into the chicane, decided against...
"That was the only slight worry I had during the race, those few laps when I was behind him." Alain said afterwards, "I was not too concerned about passing him because I knew he had not stopped - and I thought he had to stop! But with him there I was losing two seconds a lap, and I was a bit concerned about Keke..."
Friends Prost and Rosberg assuredly are, but there are, say it again, no team orders at McLaren. Alain well knew that Keke would be trying to catch him - and he was.
"I was about nine seconds behind him at that point," Rosberg related, "and I really tried to go hard. But as soon as Alain had a clear road, I got nowhere. I'd gain half a second one lap, and he'd take it back on the next."
Prost got his clear road at the end of lap 42 when Senna came in, and now we saw a repeat of Imola, a whole series of new lap records, still without revving hard or touching a kerb. This was a great driver at his imperious best, destroying the opposition with ridiculous ease.
Moreover, McLaren were clearly on for their first 1-2 of the new season, for Senna's stop had been left too late, allowing Rosberg several laps on his fresh tyres while Ayrton had been struggling with worn ones. When the Lotus came back out it was behind both McLarens, and there it stayed for the duration.
In the meantime Alboreto was gone, another turbo failure accounting for the Ferrari. Michele, very much the race star here a year ago, is growing very short of patience with Maranello, and it will take more than love of country to keep him there next year. At Spa the Ferraris will use Garrett, rather than KKK turbos, but that will do little for their handling troubles.
Ayrton Senna simply could not match the McLarens at Monaco © LAT
Out, too, was Berger's Benetton, thereby failing to finish in the points for the first time this year. When the Austrian pitted for tyres on lap 44 one of the locating pins on the left rear broke, and there was nothing to be done. Again, though, he had made a fine impression.
There was now little to watch or do, beyond marvelling at the precision of Prost - and the entertaining battle for sixth between Laffite, Piquet, Brundle and Tambay. Eventually Jacques found a way past Nelson, and then he was able to go clear of the group, but its three remaining members kept up the good fight.
Patrick and the gorgeous little Lola-Ford had been in this battle almost from the start, briefly losing contact with a tyre stop on lap 33, then catching up once more. Later Martin and Nelson did exactly the same, and it seemed that this trio was inseparable.
Climbing the hill on lap 68 Piquet gunned the Williams-Honda past Brundle, and Martin was momentarily delayed, off the line and into the slippery stuff. This allowed Tambay to catch right up to the Tyrrell, and they went down to Mirabeau as one, the red car flicking to the right of the white one at the entry to the corner.
What happened next was horrifying, and could have been The Monaco Accident feared - and anticipated, even - for years.
As Brundle turned into the corner Tambay's Lola, going too fast to brake in time and with nowhere to go, rode up into and over the Tyrrell. It then came down over the nose of the Tyrrell, bounced up into a mid-air somersault before striking the very top of a four-tier guardrail, behind which were marshals and one or two photographers.
The Lola fortunately landed back on its wheels, and Patrick was able to climb out unaided, shaken and bruised, but otherwise all right. He is unlikely ever to be luckier.
All this happened immediately in front of Mansell, who was on the point of lapping the pair. Nigel found a way through, understandably concerned about what he had just seen, but not long afterwards Prost arrived at full speed, a single stationery yellow hardly warning enough for something like this. He, too, made it by.
Whose fault was it? The movie of the accident doesn't really help us, for the two cars go out of shot as the shunt begins. It was, as Tambay put it, "a classic Mirabeau accident. I would say only that Martin closed the door not very elegantly..." And Brundle's version was this: "I braked as late as I could, and I was committed to the corner. I really think he was being a bit over-ambitious..."
Whatever its cause, the drama robbed us of the race's last battle. With a punctured rear tyre and suspension and steering damage, Martin struggled round the lap as far as Rascasse where the Tyrrell took its own slow path into the guardrail. Brundle walked back to the pits, which showed that not only Tambay had been fortunate...
The crowd gave Prost a wonderful reception on his slowing down lap, fully appreciating that they had witnessed a memorable drive by a man who seems to get better and better. "Alain," said his team-mate, with typical honesty, "was simply too strong for any of us this weekend." And Ayrton, glassy-eyed and completely exhausted after the race, was equally frank: "Very tough, very stressing race. But nothing to do against those two and that car."
"Before we got here this week," Alain said, "I really thought Senna would win - I believed the track would suit the Lotus - and Williams - better than us. But now I think the championship is more open now. Maybe I - we - could win another. After all, there's a new McLaren coming, which should be much better even than this one..."
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.