F1 Season Reviews Reviewed: 1987

1987 and the Grand Prix year that briefly ended the McLaren run of championships. Many would argue it was about a year overdue but Williams finally took another championship this time with the Honda engine. But not as some expected with Nigel Mansell. He was blighted throughout the season with poor reliability and bad luck, which culminated in a crash in Japan that not only spelt the end of his championship but ended his season early. Truth be told, that crash could have ended his career.

So instead it was his Williams team mate Nelson Piquet who took his third world championship and there were a few adventures on the way. Including a great race for British fans at Silverstone where Nigel Mansell hunted down his team mate after falling behind due to a wheel bearing failure. Mansell broke the track record 11 times in the last 15 laps and eventually passed Piquet at Stowe corner to take a very memorable home victory. Such was the Williams dominance they were both over a lap ahead of third placed Ayrton Senna in this race.

Away from the Williams story 1987 saw the first modern Japanese Grand Prix. The last race around the old Osterreichring in Austria (it returned in 1998 in the form of the A1 Ring and is now the current Red Bull Ring) It was also the final season where the original Team Lotus won a race and the last year for Bernie Ecclestone as a team manager of Brabham. Ayrton Senna gave active suspension it’s first victory (Monaco).

On the front of the TV coverage there was very little change. It was still all being done by local TV but there were other evolutions. The onboard camera was being more widely used and in more races than before with Satoru Nakajima become a somewhat involuntary camera man for several races. Viewers would be treated to a regular dose of accidents from his point of view. His crash into the back of Warwick in Mexico being the most dramatic. But as you can also see from the video above there was a new angle facing backwards which in my opinion is better than the rear angle we get in 2019. This is largely because the design of modern F1 cars don’t allow for this angle but this angle although rarely used feels more raw and comes into it’s own when De Cesaris’s engine blows during practice in Australia.

So what about the actual review then? It starts with what I think is the best intro to a video so far in this series and it sets the mood perfectly for the rest of the video which then starts with the presenter Peter Ustinov in Berlin next to that famous wall.

We then get a couple of shots of the famous statue of Christ in Rio De Janero (There’s another one in Lisbon that matches it by the way) then a few shots of women sunbathing before we get to the track and in the words of Peter Ustinov in commentary “the 1987 line up was getting ready” Once again with on screen information we get a team by team run down of the grid including both the main turbo charged field and the cars in the new normally aspirated category known as the Jim Clark cup which would be dominated by the Tyrrell team. Their one last major triumph. Again the information presented on the screen is typically basic 1980’s stuff with a blue screen with small pictures of the drivers accompanied by blocky capital letter text font. Although it’s worth noting that we still don’t have any universal graphics for the TV coverage. YET. In-between races we get a good run down of the race result as well as championship positions each time.

So what about the footage used in this video? On the surface it follows the same pattern as previous years with more of an even feeling split between extra footage shot for the video (examples of which you can see in their video intro above) and the footage that you would have seen on TV and it’s pot luck as to what is used.

Once again the extra shot footage is quite shaky in places almost as if the camera isn’t on a tripod but the extra footage really does help and at times it really is needed. An example of that is to do with the picture shown above of the chaos that ensued in the second attempted start of the Austrian Grand Prix. For both crashes and all three start attempts (the third being the successful one) The TV coverage (for some reason) shows an aerial shot from a helicopter which while good for showing the scale of what went wrong a camera track side would do the job much better. It’s an editorial decision that would not be allowed in 2019 although with the way some camera direction works who knows what they will do? (I don’t want to give FOM TV too many ideas).

One piece of surprise extra footage was the spectator video at Monaco of the incident between Alboreto and Danner (Danner was excluded for the meeting for his part in the accident but the video on the review shows Danner was probably not to blame) This is the first instance of footage NOT from the TV coverage or FOM (as they would become) cameramen which is an interesting note. Also it would be one of the last times spectator footage would be used. So signs of a one off experiment perhaps?

The other thing worthy of note is that the extra video shot footage again does tend to feel like it’s muscling in on the action a little bit too much at times. Especially when the TV pictures captured the same thing in a more stable feeling picture. It wouldn’t give you motion sickness is the message here.

But the biggest change in this review compared to others before is finally the use of on board cameras in the actual review and not just in the introduction montage. You get some pictures from the Lotus of Nakajima having accidents. One in Detroit where he has an incident at the first corner then again later in the same lap after a collision with Campos in the Minardi. And then again in spectacular style in Mexico when he hit the back of Derek Warwick’s arrows.

We do also get a handful of random shots from him here and there in some of the races that don’t really add anything to the review other than the fact that it’s good to see this actually being used. The other way the on board footage is used is to show us parts of the circuit from the drivers point of view. So for example in the very first in review on board shot we see Nakajima going through the famous Eau Rouge esses at Spa (Belgium being near the start of the season back then, something which would change in 1988) This happens again in France and Austria where the speeds are among the highest in the championship. Again great to see this being used in the review but one can’t hide the fact that this is a year (at least) overdue.

The sound quality is good. Better than it has been recently but again the low pitched popping sound on the extra footage is very distracting and increases my argument for more in the way of TV coverage for things like the start of the races. Something they liked to use the extra footage for a lot. The TV footage sound is good given that some countries host broadcasters did a better job than others and finally whoever did the San Marino Grand Prix had clearly invested in some better equipment as the sound is better here (well done RAI at last) as the cars no longer sounded like they were being broadcast down a phone line. If you want to experience the kind of thing I’m talking about then watch the 1979 French Grand Prix on YouTube and listen to the background sound carefully.

Overall if you ignore the usual distortion on the extra footage it does sound pretty atmospheric and the sound you get to hear when on the footage of practice Berger hits the barrier at Monaco you realise that there aren’t that many small accidents in this sport at this level. You really do hear the impact well.

So what about the commentary? As I explained right at the start of the article the video is presented by Peter Ustinov standing next to the Berlin wall. He then narrates the Brazil intro and you get the impression that the commentary and the video in general is going to be quite slow paced. His pronunciation of drivers names is second to none as he guides us through the driver line up section. Then for the races Simon Taylor takes over and the race commentary does gather a little more pace but it’s easy to keep up with and the two voices and indeed accents go together quite well. This is actually one of the best season review commentaries that doesn’t involve Clive James so far.

The in race commentary is done in very much the same style of the 1981 review and is very documentary style. It’s done in both past and present tense but the present tense stuff is a gentle “Berger’s Ferrari now coughing it’s last” style so it doesn’t feel forced in the way that later reviews would do. The commentary in this is just right and Peter Ustinov is surprisingly good in the between race segments. He throws in a couple of cheeky comments but nothing that you can’t handle and it certainly isn’t as in your face as other reviews that we’ve mentioned before. The script written by Simon Taylor in this review is really done well.

Overall ignoring the audio again on the extra footage this is actually a great review for it’s time and is an easy video to watch for a couple of hours. The addition of on board footage in the review is a very good addition as is the rest of the footage as a whole. The overall audio (that’s not distorted) is very good and the overall feel of the review is the most atmospheric since the 1982 review. The commentary is a surprise and works really well. It’s amazing that the reviews then went the way that they did in the following years after getting this one so right (more on that next time).

This review then overall gets a 4 out of 5 mark. The one thing marking it down is the annoying low pitched popping noise (AGAIN!) in the extra footage that does get annoying enough to stop it being a 5 star review. But it’s still a very watchable 2 hours.

So that was 1987. Up next is (of course) 1988 and the start of what for fans was the sports golden age.