1989 – 1990

Round 6, 1989 Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal


 1       Thierry Boutsen                    Williams Renault

2       Riccardo Patrese                   Williams Renault

3       Andrea De Cesaris                 Dallara Ford

4       Nelson Piquet                        Lotus Judd

5       Rene Arnoux                         Ligier Ford

6       Alex Caffi                              Dallara Ford

THE 1989 championship stayed in North America for the third consecutive event and the annual pilgrimage to Canada.  The Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in the heartland of Montreal was staging the sixth event of the title battle and though was hard on brakes and had become a circuit that demanded respect, it was well-liked by all of the Grand Prix personnel.

Following a DNF at the last event on the dusty streets of Phoenix, Arizona, world champion Ayrton Senna had fallen one point behind his team-mate Alain Prost.  A rejuvenated Riccardo Patrese was already 17 points further back, once again highlighting the supremacy that the McLaren Honda team had over the rest of the opposition.  The shocks continued in qualifying with a Lotus, a Benetton and a Brabham missing from the cull of 26 for Sunday and Prost had beaten Senna to the pole position too.  It was the first time since the previous October’s Spanish Grand Prix that Ayrton had not started from the front, nine races ago.

After an aborted start, a wet track was drying and both Alessandro Nannini and Nigel Mansell opted to gamble with putting on slicks at the end of the formation lap.  Both of the Minardi cars chose the same tactic.  However, both Mansell and Nannini exited the pits having missed an orange light flashing.  Despite fretful protests from both Ferrari and Benetton, the two were subsequently disqualified.  At the green light, Prost beat Senna from the unconventional pole position side in Canada into turn one, with Patrese, Gerhard Berger and Thierry Boutsen snapping at each others heels.  Further back, Martini spun off on his dry tyres whilst trying to overtake Stefano Modena’s Brabham.  On lap two, Prost pitted for the slick rubber, as many were struggling with overheating from the wet compound.  Senna stayed out until lap four, before pitting for slicks.  He didn’t have to worry about his team-mate though, Prost succumbing to a front suspension issue, his first non-score of the campaign.

Two laps after Senna switching onto dry rubber; it started raining again, with the brief shower playing into the hands of the leading Williams Renault cars.  Meanwhile, Berger retired again with an alternator problem, his eighth consecutive retirement.  Soon afterwards, the track started drying and Senna began closing in quickly on Patrese and Boutsen.  To avoid being breezed past, Boutsen headed in for dries.  Just as Senna was looking venomous in the mirrors of Patrese, the race took another twist when the water started pouring out of the sky, heavier on this occasion.  In just six laps, Senna lost 22 seconds to the Italian and was forced to admit defeat and head for the pits.

Now Patrese looked in a commanding position.  He hadn’t won a Grand Prix since 1983 and now was 28 seconds infront of Derek Warwick’s Arrows.  Crash-prone Andrea De Cesaris sat third, ahead of Nicola Larini in an Osella, Alex Caffi and Senna was now down in sixth.  It wasn’t long before Senna charged through the pack, helped by Larini disappearing with an electrical gremlin and De Cesaris living up to his reputation with a wild spin, costing him five spots.  For the two Renault powered Williams, their fortunes were varying.  Patrese was now half a minute infront, whilst Boutsen had a quick 360 degree spin on the backstraight.

Yet again, luck didn’t side with Patrese when he made a scheduled stop for wets that went wrong.  A cross-threaded wheelnut dropped him behind Senna, who got his lead back by disposing Warwick from his brief tenure at the front.  Nevertheless, the Brit looked good for a podium, until he was sidelined by an engine failure.  Now, Senna was back in control and cruising away from Patrese, whose race was beginning to unravel.  Boutsen was charging along and with his dander up, closed down Patrese and was past his fading team-mate on lap 63.  By now, Boutsen had obviously settled for second, but there was another shock in this race full of drama, when Senna suddenly stopped on the 67th tour, the Honda engine had broken.

Boutsen leads Patrese to a popular Williams 1-2

This opened the door for Williams to score a popular 1-2 finish, their first of that kind since Austria 1987.  It was a first career success from Boutsen, with Patrese claiming his third consecutive second place finish.  De Cesaris was third for Dallara, infront of a demotivated couple of drivers, Nelson Piquet and Rene Arnoux.  Both had re-established their reputations with gritty drives in this race.  Only seven cars finished, Caffi clinching the final point ahead of Christian Danner’s Rial, hobbled by a broken exhaust.  The 1989 Canadian Grand Prix was incident-packed from start-to-finish and despite the luck that befall Senna, no-one could grudge the return to the top step of the podium for a formidable force in the shape of Williams.


Round 16, 1989 Australian Grand Prix, Adelaide


1       Thierry Boutsen                    Williams Renault

2       Alessandro Nannini              Benetton Ford

3       Riccardo Patrese                    Williams Renault

4       Satoru Nakajima                    Lotus Judd

5       Emanuele Pirro                      Benetton Ford

6       Pierluigi Martini                    Minardi Ford

SOMETIMES, organisers do stupid things which make Grand Prix racing look like a circus.  Running the 1989 Australian Grand Prix in conditions better suited to Rallycross was certainly one of these.  Drivers weren’t keen on racing, spectators were soaked from head to toe, but the insistence of some meant that a race took place, risking the lives of many.

The power struggle between FISA and McLaren had ruined the build-up to the season finale.  The controversial collision that had settled the 1989 world championship in favour of Alain Prost was dominating the headlines in Oz off the track.  Whilst this won’t be looked into great detail, as this is a race report, it was clear that Prost and FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre were fighting a bickering battle with McLaren chief Ron Dennis and an emotional and angered, Ayrton Senna.  There was no inkling to the sudden change of weather conditions in qualifying, with Senna clinching his 42nd career pole position, ahead of Prost, the much improved Pierluigi Martini and the inherited winner of the race in Suzuka, Alessandro Nannini.

Senna shields himself from the non-stop rain

On Sunday, the weather turned so sour, it reminded pundits of wet, drippy events in Monaco1984 and Portugal1985 from the last decade.  When a 15-minute warm-up session for extreme weather conditions was abandoned due to the amount of aquaplaning, discussions began on whether a Grand Prix was going to be held.  Gerhard Berger & Nelson Piquet were planning a drivers strike and Thierry Boutsen went to see race director Roland Bruynserade to express the drivers concerns.  However, the officials refused to listen and a race began with Prost beating Senna off the line.  Despite losing the initial advantage, Senna barged past his infuriated colleague into turn one and pulled eight seconds clear.  Prost pulled into the pits after the first lap, withdrawing from the race, with the Frenchman refusing to compete in such a farce.  With the new champion heading for the airport, JJ Lehto crashed his Onyx in a dangerous position and the red flag came out, stopping the event.

As the cars regrouped, Nigel Mansell doubted whether he should restart, whilst Piquet took on the role of president and marched down the grid to tell every driver what to do.  Bernie Ecclestone insisted the race would restart and the drivers put their visors down and got on with the job in hand, despite their fears.  Again, Senna pulled away, opening up a half-minute cushion within of seven laps.  Giving vain chase were the Williams cars and Nannini, who had dropped Martini’s Minardi, the Italian looking uncomfortable on his Pirelli-shod wets.  Further back, Andrea De Cesaris crashed, Berger had an unnecessary tangle with French no-hoper Philippe Alliot and Piquet had a terrifying moment when he pelted into Piercarlo Ghizani’s Osella at top speed under braking for the Brabham straight.  The Lotus pirouetted down the escape road, with Piquet’s helmet showing damage to where the Osella’s right rear wheel had struck it.  It was a sad way to end Ghizani’s unsuccessful Formula 1 venture, as like Rene Arnoux, the pair had announced their departures from F1 leading upto this event.

On lap 14, Martin Brundle’s Brabham aquaplaned on the backstraight and the Brit lifted off to control the slide.  From the embarking mist came Senna, who took an unnecessary risk and ploughed straight into the back of the Brabham, turning his McLaren into a tricycle.  Both cars were out in the bizarre incident and so was Mansell, who spun and damaged his Ferrari whilst in third and lapping quicker than Nannini & Boutsen.  Nigel was furious, as he beat his arms in the cockpit, realising he might have been able to pull off an unlikely success in such dreadful weather.

For the rest of the event, the top three were established; with Boutsen basking in the glory of his second wet race win of the season.  Nannini finished second while third for Riccardo Patrese earned him a top three spot in the world drivers championship.  From 23rd on the grid and with fastest lap, Japanese charger Satoru Nakajima stormed his underpowered Lotus Judd upto fourth place, ahead of Emanuele Pirro’s Benetton, with his first world championship points and Martini hung onto sixth.

The 1989 championship had finished in such diabolical fashion and for many; the winter break couldn’t come soon enough.  Hopefully, 1990 was going to be better for the final conclusion to a bitter battle on and off the track.  Sadly, the deadliest rivalry in Formula One was only destined to continue to even more dramatic extremes in the next twelve months to come.


Round 6, 1990 Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City


 1       Alain Prost                             Ferrari

2       Nigel Mansell                        Ferrari

3       Gerhard Berger                      McLaren Honda

4       Alessandro Nannini              Benetton Ford

5       Thierry Boutsen                    Williams Renault

6       Nelson Piquet                        Benetton Ford

IN MID-JUNE 1990, Formula One made its third visit to North America, in the days when this continent was a very popular grand prix location.  Round six of the championship was expected to bring hot and humid weather to Mexico City for the Mexican Grand Prix, and it sure did, despite a pouring thunderstorm on Thursday afternoon.  Brazilian Ayrton Senna was leading the championship standings, having won three of the first five events.

Senna headed to the Autodromo Hernando Rodriguez in control of the championship and was also celebrating his 100th Grand Prix.  Third on the grid by his standards, was disappointing, with pole position going to Austrian Gerhard Berger.  Riccardo Patrese split the McLaren’s in qualifying and Nigel Mansell produced his usual charging effort to grab a place on the outside of the second row.  However, for world champion Alain Prost, he had a nightmare.  A poor set-up choice, followed by a wild spin and issues with the Ferrari gearbox left him languishing down in 13th place.  Prost’s worst spot on the grid line-up since his debut season in 1980.  The other highlights of qualifying saw both Leyton House cars fail to qualify and both Larrousse drivers make the line-up, despite two mammoth shunts for drivers Aguri Suzuki and Eric Bernard.

With his jump start and one minute time penalty from the previous outing in Canada, Berger was clearly tense on the grid and it showed in his getaway, as both Patrese and Senna jumping him on the long run into turns one and two.  Mansell made his regular sloppy start, conceding positions to Thierry Boutsen and Nelson Piquet and whilst Prost was hoping to make progress at the lights, it got worse, as he was pushed back to 14th place.  On the first circuit, Senna was swarming all over Patrese and twice, got denied passing on the opening lap, due to the Italian’s late bravery on the brakes.  Out of the last corner though, the slipstreaming effect kicked in and the Honda powered McLaren out-dragged the veteran to clinch the lead.  To make matters worse for Patrese, he allowed Berger to slip past too.  Very quickly, Patrese dropped behind the rapidly improving Piquet and team-mate Boutsen due to external tyre wear and soon did not have any say in the outcome in the event, as he dropped backwards almost without trace.

The McLaren’s were opening up a commanding advantage over Piquet, Boutsen, Mansell and Jean Alesi’s under-powered Tyrrell Ford.  Meanwhile, Prost had battled his way upto tenth place, then got trapped for a while behind the Lotus Lamborghini cars of Martin Donnelly and Derek Warwick.  Mexico’s abrasive track surface was proving a tyre-wrecker and Berger was the next victim to this issue.  Terrible blistering on his tyres forced him after just 13 laps, taking him out of contention for the victory.  However, on the fresh rubber, he started using it to great effect in a fightback from ninth place.  Like on many occasions in 1990, Benetton were trying a risky strategy of not pitting for tyres during a Grand Prix.  Consequently, Nelson Piquet was running a distant, but solid second.  Just like Berger though, he fell foul to tyre chunking, which helped old rival Mansell sail past into second place on his tyre-friendlier Ferrari.  Eventually, Piquet had to give up the struggle and pit, promoting the canny Prost into a surprising third position.

Yet again, the Frenchman had sacrificed an early charge to be in a stronger position.  Fifteen laps from home, third became second when Mansell became trapped behind a backmarker.  Elsewhere, Senna had been in cruise control from lap two, but like Berger and Piquet, he was being slowed by tyre issues.  He gambled and carried on, but unlike the former two, his problem was worse, as it had been diagnosed that his drop-off in performance had been caused by a slow puncture, not heavy tyre wear.  Quickly, Prost caught the defenceless Brazilian and would have proudly enjoyed the ease he had in getting ahead of his chief enemy.  Still, Senna continued, but on this occasion, the gamble worked against him.  The right rear tyre that had been given the thrashing of a lifetime finally disintegrated in the last ten laps and Senna was forced to cruise back to the pits and into retirement.

The race wasn’t over though, as Berger showed his daring aggression, by barging past the unsuspecting Mansell with three laps to go.  What happened next was even more daring, possibly one of the most extraordinary overtaking manoeuvres ever in the sport.  The flamboyant Mansell went flat through the outside of the dangerous Peralta corner and forced Berger to lift, or cause the mother-and-father of all smashes.  Wisely, Gerhard took the former option and nearly copied the outstanding bravery on the last tour, had it not been for a brief delay behind Andrea De Cesaris’s Dallara.  So, Prost showed his class to rack up a second win of the season and made the bookmakers think again about paying out on a McLaren walkabout of the championship.  At times, Alain was criticised for his boring driving, as it might have lacked passion, but he had the awesome brain and management to control the race and command a situation when possible.  Second went to Mansell, to claim a Ferrari 1-2.  Berger put in a stellar recovery drive to third, whilst Alessandro Nannini made a non-stop work to fight through to fourth place on his Benetton.  The point’s scorers were completed by Boutsen and Piquet.

All of a sudden, the championship which looked set to be a one-horse race was developing into a tight battle.  Ferrari had built up a surge of power at a crucial part of the season and now, McLaren would have to dig really deep to hang onto both titles.


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