Williams sub wrecked hopes of a perfect season with Senna crash at Monza

It was a year of unprecedented domination by one F1 team.

Not even during Mercedes' run of seven straight drivers' titles did they go close to winning every single race in a season. It was a feat McLaren Honda really should have achieved in 1988 as bitter rivals Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost battled for the crown.

The Woking team arrived at the Italian Grand Prix of that year having won every race up to that point, and another looked to be a foregone conclusion as Senna led the way going into the closing stages at Monza. Prost had retired with an engine problem.

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Step forward little-known racer Jean-Louis Schlesser. He had replaced British hero Nigel Mansell, who was suffering from chicken pox. Martin Brundle had actually replaced Mansell at the previous race at Spa but had been advised against doing so at Monza by his boss in sportscar racing at the time, Tom Walkinshaw.

So Williams turned to Schlesser, who was almost 40 and better known for his exploits in endurance racing than F1.

Senna was coming up to lap the Frenchman, who pulled over to let the Brazilian through at the first chicane. However, there wasn't as much space as Senna thought and the cars collided, sensationally spinning Senna into retirement.

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If that wasn't dramatic enough, the next two cars in the order were the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto, who roared to a one-two finish on home ground just weeks after the death of team founder, the legendary Enzo Ferrari.

As the Tifosi – Ferrari's passionate fanbase – rejoiced after the race, Senna cut a disconsolate figure. According to reports at the time, as team boss Ron Dennis tried to console his driver, Schlesser approached the McLaren motorhome, only to have the door slammed in his face by a quick-thinking team employee.

Schlesser was eventually granted an audience with Senna and issued an apology which was accepted by McLaren. However, many believe Senna played at least an equal part in the incident by not showing more patience.

Senna sadly passed following the crash while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. But Dennis and Schlesser were reunited at a Grand Prix in 2013. Dennis reportedly said in jest: “This is the man who ruined my life and our perfect record back in 1988.”

Schlesser replied: "What happened that day at Monza kept you hungry…" Indeed, after cantering to the ’88 title with Senna, McLaren won the following three drivers’ and constructors’ titles too.

Williams will be hoping their stand-in at today’s Italian Grand Prix, Nyck de Vries, plays a less infamous role in proceedings.


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