Mansell denied at the last
This saw one of the most dramatic conclusions of recent years. Mansell and Piquet had fought hard all year, but in the final race Mansell blew a tyre, Piquet made a precautionary stop, and a dis-believing Prost sped through to the title.
Having lost Niki Lauda to retirement, McLaren replaced him with another champion: Keke Rosberg. The Finn was also replaced by a champion with Nelson Piquet moving across from Brabham. Lotus wanted to hire Derek Warwick, but Ayrton Senna didn't want a top name alongside him, so they chose Johnny Dumfries. With Renault having pulled out, Warwick headed for Brabham where he was joined by Elio de Angelis.
Over the winter, the Toleman team turned into Benetton - named after the Italian knitwear company that had been backing the Alfa Romeo team until it folded at the end of 1985 - and the talented Gerhard Berger joined Teo Fabi with BMW engines, perhaps the most powerful in the field. RAM and Spirit also failed to make it through the close season, but numbers were boosted by the arrival of the one-car entry from the French AGS team, with Ivan Capelli having the "honour" of driving the Motori Moderni-engined device.
Fuel consumption was again an issue, as the fuel allowed per car per race was reduced from 220 litres to 195. In qualifying at least, though, drivers didn't have to think of consumption and would wind their turbo boost up five bar for a flying lap.
Piquet got off to the best possible start, winning his home grand prix at Rio de Janeiro. Senna took pole, and he and Prost led before Piquet took over.
After a five-year break, Spain had a grand prix again, on the twisty Jerez track in the country's far south. And it produced a thrilling race, with Senna holding off Mansell by 0.014 sec.
Senna was on pole at Imola, but a jammed wheel bearing forced him out, while Rosberg fell from second to fifth, his tank dry of fuel. Piquet and Rosberg led, but the reliable Prost was there to win from Piquet.
Prost broke Senna's string of poles at Monaco, and led Rosberg home. Senna led briefly, but fell to third. The meeting was a landmark for Ford as it returned for the first time since the demise of the Cosworth DFV, introducing its first turbo in the rear of the Haas Lolas of Alan Jones and Patrick Tambay.
Tragedy struck when de Angelis was killed in testing at Paul Ricard, the Italian driver being asphyxiated when his car inverted after rear wing failure.
Piquet took pole at Spa, but Mansell came through to win from Senna and Johansson. In a black weekend in June, former Osella driver Jo Gartner was killed at Le Mans, while Arrows star Marc Surer was injured in a rally, with Christian Danner upgrading from Osella to replace him.
Brabham was back up to strength in Canada, Warwick returning from the Jaguar sports car team. Mansell took pole and won from Prost. Senna won from pole in Detroit, but both Ligiers took a turn in the lead, with Laffite finishing second.
Mansell won at Paul Ricard, ahead of Prost, Piquet and Rosberg. And nobody was going to stop him at home, although Piquet pipped him for pole at Brands Hatch. Nigel had a drive shaft break, but his day was saved by a red flag as Johansson and Laffite collided and Laffite hit a barrier, breaking both his legs and ending his career. Mansell went and won the restart after a tussle with Piquet.
The German Grand Prix returned to Hockenheim. On this power track it was a surprise to see Rosberg and Prost on the front row, but Keke led before Piquet took over and won to keep his title challenge alive.
The twisty and slow Hungaroring circuit made its debut, as Formula One made its first visit to the Eastern bloc and Piquet outran Senna to win in front of 200,000 spectators. BMW power ruled in Austria as Fabi and Berger grabbed the front row for Benetton. Berger led until his turbo blew, and in a race of high attrition it was inevitably Prost who kept it flowing to win from Alboreto.
Fabi took pole at Monza with what was quite possibly the most powerful car ever seen in Formula One. He shared the front row with Prost, but Piquet led Mansell to a Williams one-two. Senna was on pole in Portugal, but Mansell led all the way to win from Prost and Piquet. The campaign's third new track was in fact an old one - but the circus had not visited Mexico City since 1970. Benetton finally came good and Berger scored his first win. In a dramatic finale in Adelaide, with both Williams drivers and Prost up for the title,
Mansell was perfectly placed to take the title when a rear tyre blew. Williams made Piquet pit for a precautionary change, and he fell to second behind Prost. Victory gave the Frenchman his second title.
Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books