1988 was a very sad year for Ferrari. The founder Enzo, who turned 90 in February, started to show his years. For his birthday there was no public celebration, no special guests, just a “family” event open to “those on the books”, as Ferrari himself wanted it. There were nearly 1700 people in attendance, in the production line of the factory while outside there was a huge field kitchen. The employees received a model of the last car personally approved by Ferrari, the F40, along with a commemorative silver medal. The menu was typically Emilian: ham, sausage, cracklings, mortadella, fried dumplings and pickled vegetables as an hors d'oeuvres accompanied by Malvasia wine; tortellini pasta with cream and lasagne for the first course and Zampone of Modena with beans and a veal cutlet with baked vegetables for the main. The meal was accompanied by Lambrusco wine. It concluded with birthday cake and sparkling wine for the toast.
Ferrari enjoyed the warm wishes of everyone at the company but within a few weeks his condition worsened. He visited Maranello less often and in June, when Pope John Paul II visited the factory, he only spoke to him on the phone. His son Piero accompanied Karol Wojtyla on the factory tour. Enzo followed the summer Grands Prix from his bed, which were dominated by McLaren, and he passed away at 7 o’clock in the morning on the 14th August. According to his wishes, the news of his death was not made public until the following day after 8 o’clock, once his funeral had ended. Ferrari made the press work on the August bank holiday. The news of his passing spread across the world, despite the internet not existing. It was all anyone talked about.
Less than a month later, Formula 1 arrived in Monza for the eleventh Grand Prix of the season. Nigel Mansell did not take part for Williams, still struggling with the injuries he sustained in the accident in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix the previous year. Martin Brundle was due to replace him but Tom Walkinshaw, for whom the Englishman was racing in the World Sport Prototypes, did not give him permission. Therefore the Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser, who had only taken part in one qualifying in 1983 and nothing since then, was thrown in at the deep end. Once again the cars to beat were the McLarens: Ayrton Senna confirmed he was the pole position magician with a time of 1.25.974, beating his teammate Alain Prost by almost four tenths. The Ferraris locked out the second row with Gerhard Berger ahead of Michele Alboreto. The Austrian was realistic before the race, saying, “I would like to make a great start and be in front by the end of the first lap in front of all our fans, although I think it will be difficult to be in the lead on the last lap.”
When it was time to line up on the grid, just before three o’clock, Berger’s car was having trouble. Luckily, the spare car was set up for the Austrian so he was able to start as normal. Prost made a better start than Senna, but the Brazilian retook the lead ahead of the Frenchman and the Ferraris. On lap 31, Prost started to have problems and lost six seconds. Berger started to fight back and got in his slipstream, followed by Alboreto. Four laps later, the eighty thousand Italian fans jumped to their feet: both Maranello cars overtook the McLaren, which would retire soon after.
Senna received a radio message to switch to a setting which would be less tough on the engine, meaning the Brazilian started to lap a second and a half slower than the Ferraris. 16 laps from the end, his advantage over Berger and Alboreto was still substantial. The race was reaching the end, the start of the 50th and penultimate lap. Senna, on the home straight, was closing in on his friend Mauricio Gugelmin in the March and Schlesser in the Williams, preparing to lap them both. Ayrton overtook the first car and the Williams seemed to let the leader through at the first chicane. However Schlesser tried to take the corner, locked up and ended up hitting the rear suspension of the McLaren, and that was Senna’s race over.
The fans in the grandstands could not believe their eyes: the Ferraris were in the lead and about to start the final lap. The roar of the crowd was such that you could hardly hear Berger and Alboreto’s engines. The Ferraris, less than a month after Enzo’s death, crossed the finish line in parade formation, the team’s 39th one-two finish. In third place was another crowd favourite: the Italian-American Eddie Cheever in the Arrows. There was the traditional track invasion. The cheers when Berger’s name was announced were deafening, but when Alboreto’s name came out over the PA system, the roar from the crowd could be heard in Milan.
It was a completely unexpected one-two that owed a lot to luck, so much so that there were those who suggested that in his questionable move, Schlesser had been inspired by a higher power. Maybe someone up there wanted to see Ferrari on the top spot of the podium at Monza at all costs...