The 1987 season was my first year in Formula One. I had sponsorship from Lois jeans and Mr. Minardi offered me a drive in his team alongside Alessandro Nannini in the new Minardi M187. I appreciated that the Minardi wasn’t too competitive, but it was a start. The car was powered by Motori Moderni V6 turbo and was possibly the most powerful car I had driven to that point of my career. In my first race, the Brazilian GP, I was disqualified as I’d overtaken cars lining up for the grid after my car had stalled. I should have started in last place, but I was young, exuberant and this was my first Formula One race. My season didn’t get too much better as my car retired at all the races in that F1 World Championship series—except one.
As a boy, my motor racing hero was Alfonso de Portago, a true legend in Spain. He was killed at the wheel of his Ferrari 335S along with his teammate, Edmund Nelson, and a number of spectators while competing in the 1957 Mille Miglia. The accident was caused by a tire failure, nothing to do with the way he was driving. This all happened three years before I was born, yet from a very early age I looked at him as a gentleman driver and he became my inspiration to become involved in motor racing—I wanted to race, I wanted to drive in the Spanish GP.
The 1987 Spanish GP was held at Jerez in southern Spain, it was the 13th round of the World Championship and my lucky race. My confidence was very low, continuing to drive for a team that didn’t have the possibility of finishing a race, but I knew I would have many supporters. I was the only Spaniard on the grid and very proud to represent Spain. I had qualified at the back of the grid in 24th place out of 26. The weather was sunny and very hot. The usual drivers were at the front, Mansell, Prost, Piquet and Senna. I really wanted to finish the race, so rather than trying to race, my strategy was to drive for a finish. At the start, my engineer told me it would be difficult for the car to complete the race. I can tell you it is more difficult to drive a Formula One racing car slowly than fast, but I wanted to demonstrate I was capable of finishing races.
As the race progressed, various people retired in front of me, others slowed due to engine problems in the intense heat. My teammate, Alessandro Nannini, retired with turbo problems and I thought my engine would have problems too, but I managed to finish in 14th position, in front of Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari and Thierry Boutsen’s Benetton. Fourteenth isn’t the greatest finishing position, the leaders overtook me three times in the race, I was quite slow and at the end I was four laps down, but I did finish in front of my home fans. Halfway through the next season I retired from Formula One, so it was the only time I ever drove in my home Grand Prix—that’s why I have great memories of the Minardi M187 on that September day.
As told to Mike Jiggle