What had started out as a trawl of the Internet to find footage of Murray Walker poking Nigel Mansell’s bruised bonce, quickly became a fact finding mission into the 1987 Austrian Grand Prix.
Remember that? It featured three starts, a stray deer, disqualification, and of course a bruised driver. Yup, the 1987 Austrian Grand Prix was anything but dull.
As circuits go, the Osterreichring was a bit of a gem. Located in Austria’s Styrian foothills, it was picturesque and demanding in equal measure. Its long straights were linked by fast sweeping bends, which were big on commitment and short on run-off.
In qualifying for the event, Nelson Piquet clocked up an average of 159mph (256kph) in his Williams FW11B-Honda to secure pole position, but the race didn’t go quite so smoothly as his qualifying lap…
Piquet had a decent start and led the way up to the Hella-Licht Chicane, but a pile-up had developed behind him.
“It was Martin Brundle’s fault,” said Christian Danner, Brundle’s Zakspeed team-mate. Brundle put his hands up and took full responsibility for the incident. “I was on the right side of the track and hit a big bump. With a heavy fuel load, my car simply ran out of suspension travel and turned left. I hit the barrier and bounced back into the pack.”
This sparked a collision which caught Ligier’s René Arnoux and Piercarlo Ghinzani, Adrian Campos in the Minardi and the Tyrells of Jonathan Palmer and Philippe Streiff.
It took almost 45 minutes to clean up the mess before the race could start again – just enough time for the teams to gather enough spare parts (or spare cars) for a full grid.
Once again, Piquet quickly moved away, but team-mate Nigel Mansell was much slower on the other side and due to the circuit’s narrow nature, created a traffic jam behind him.
As a result, Riccardo Patrese (Brabham) brushed wheels with Eddie Cheever (Arrows) and McLaren’s Stefan Johansson (who had cracked a rib, after he crashed into a stray deer during practice) found himself with nowhere to go.
Cue even more chaos.
The Zakspeeds were lured into the incident, as was almost everyone at the back of the grid. Alex Caffi (Osella), Ivan Capelli (March), Philippe Alliot (Larrousse Lola), Pascal Fabre (AGS), Ghinzani, and, again, both Tyrell drivers were involved.
The track was so cramped that there was no chance escape for any of them. Capelli recalls: “I managed to bring my car to a halt, but when I saw Pascal Fabre go flying and he landed on top of my roll-hoop, which fortunately protected me.”
Finally, at 16.12, one hour and 42 minutes after the original scheduled start, the Austrian Grand Prix began in earnest (minus only Streiff, remarkably). Mansell won for Williams… and then banged his head on a bridge stanchion as the victory car took him on a lap of honour.
To make matters even worse, motor racing commentator Murray Walker asked Mansell how he felt… then poked Mansell’s bruised head as he pointed it out to the viewers at home.
This was the last Austrian Grand Prix for 10 years. When the F1 circus returned in 1997, the track was widened, halved in length and renamed the A1-Ring after its sponsor.
The race remained until 2003, when money and politics ended its reign. But word is that Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz has visions of opening the A1-Ring up for business again next year, where it will hopefully play host to the WTCC and Formula Renault series.
“The original track was brilliant,” says Brundle, “but I didn’t think that in 1987. By the third start my car was bent and I needed 30-degree steering just to keep it straight. It was the last place you wanted to be in that situation. The Zakspeed almost always broke down, but I was sitting there thinking ‘Break, damn you, break’ and for once it kept going.”
It was only one of four races that Brundle finished that year – but it didn’t count. The Zakspeed apparently broke bodywork regulations and the stewards later stripped him of 14th place.
So yeah, the 1987 Austrian Grand Prix was anything but dull!