Hello and welcome to Turbos and Tantrums, an attempt to tell the story of modern Formula One, which for various reasons expanded on in the introduction I have declared to begin with the 1981 season – largely because you’ve got to start somewhere.
For each season, I’ll start with a review of the teams and drivers competing in the new season, and proceed through each race chronologially, making an attempt to avoid writing with hindsight or anticipating events yet to come. No “the first of many victories to come” or “this would turn out to be his last victory in F1 even though he continued driving for several years”. Just the story of the season unfolding as it did at the time.
The aim, such as it is, is to look at the narrative of the ongoing seasons. Although we may know who won the championship in a given year, it may surprise some and come as a nice reminder to others the way in which that was achieved, the characters and “sub-plots” woven through the main championship battles and so on.
Four wins for Prost puts Ferrari at the head of the Drivers’ table for the first time in years, but Mansell’s continuing reliability woes prevent them from being better in the Constructors’ table. The Englishman has been so frustrated over the last season and a half that he has decided to retire, and there will be many drivers interested in succeeding him. What remains to be seen is how Mansell’s motivation will fare; will he fade away or feel renewed with a weight off his mind?
Though never quite doing as well again as their spectacular debut at Phoenix (Alesi second, Naka-san sixth), another second place in Monaco for Alesi and a point in San Marino are a pretty good haul so far. Alesi is clearly a bigger talent than Nakajima, who has also had the lion’s share of reliability issues. The car is good and with Honda power next year could be very good indeed – but Alesi is undoubtedly being chased by bigger teams.
Still not quite living up to their potential: the Renault V10 engine is powerful enough and the chassis is quite handy, but aside from Patrese’s popular win at Imola the results have been a little sparse. The weak link may be the drivers – a shame to say, as they’re both personable and popular, but seem to just lack that cutting edge or the force of personality to take a team by the scruff of its neck and drag it upwards. One or other may have to give way in 1991.
Fifth place in Phoenix seemed to bode well but the team are in real trouble – a shame after their bright comeback last year. David Brabham, though undoubtedly a gift for the PR and marketing departments, doesn’t seem quite ready for F1 yet, has failed to qualify three times and only finished once. The undoubtedly talented Modena has had better luck, with a top finish so far of 7th in Canada – but things don’t look particlarly great so far.
Not a happy season so far for the newly-rebranded team. Alex Caffi scored in Monaco, sure, but both he and veteran ex-Ferrari driver Alboreto have failed to qualify twice and seem destined to struggle in midfield at best. Porsche engines for 1991 might be a godsend, but only if the German firm doesn’t pull out on the strength of the season so far.
Still no joy for the veteran team; the eagerly-awaited Lamborghini engines have not delivered the results and both Warwick and Donnelly are looking distinctly downhearted, especially as there seemed to be an improvement and a point in Canada. Nothing the team tries seems to be working and with a third straight disappointing season there must surely be question marks over their continued funding by Camel.
Not a huge amount to report, but Osella have in many ways done better than they could have. Grouillard has qualified for five of eight races, and has come through pre-qualifying pretty comfortably in all bar one of the meetings so far. It’s not enough to bring them out of pre-qualifying, but it does bode well for the future.
After a brilliant 1988 and a disappointing 1989, the team’s first season with its new name has been nothing short of a disaster, with six DNQs on record so far, which has cost them their talented designer Adrian Newey. Fortunately the changes he made before leaving seem to have done a lot of good – witness the magnificent showing in France – and the team will be hoping to carry that momentum into the second half of the series.
The little French team have found it tough going so far, with both talented drivers struggling to pre-qualify and only Dalmas making it through to Sunday on two occasions. They are masters at making a little go a long way but are having to make less and less go further and futher…
If “common knowledge” is correct and Piquet is indeed on a $100,000 per point contract, it seems to be working out quite well for him so far: he’s scored in every race except when disqualified in Monaco. Sandro Nannini has had all the bad luck so far but has at least managed a podium/fastest lap combo in San Marino and a further points finish in Mexico. He is one driver already being touted for Mansell’s Ferrari seat in 1991. Benetton to chalk up a win by the end of the season? Don’t bet against it.
Scuderia Italia Dallara-Ford
With one exception, the cars have qualified for all races so far but Pirro and de Cesaris have only seen a chequered flag once each so far; the Magneti Marelli ignition and engine-mapping electrics seem to be their main problem but de Cesaris’ erratic driving does seem to be exacerbating things.
1989 was a good year for Minardi, with excellent qualifying performances leading to points, though never as many as they really deserved. 1990 so far, however, has been one to forget. Paolo Barilla looks rather out of his depth, failing to qualify twice in the new M190 so far, while Martini took two top-10 finishes in the old M189 but has only finished once, 12th, in the new one. Ferrari power next year, but like Arrows they must be nervous about their new supplier getting cold feet.
From bad to worse for the French “national team” who must now suffer the indignity of pre-qualifying for the rest of the season. Alliot’s brace of 9th places are the best results so far. Despite this, the friendship between Guy Ligier and French president Mitterrand means that state sponsorship in the form of Gitanes cigarettes and the national lottery is forthcoming and there are even rumours that Renault are looking to buy the team for a return to F1 as a constructor.
Senna and McLaren still look the class of the field although Prost and Ferrari have made a lot of headway. Of eight races so far, it’s 4-3 to Prost with Patrese taking the odd one, but McLaren’s second driver has had more luck than Ferrari’s. Berger looked a little out of sorts at the start of the season as he tried to squeeze his lanky frame into the car, but with adjustments made he’s had four podium finishes and two more points finishes. He still doesn’t look in the same league as Senna, but as the season progresses he will hope to give his illustrious team-mate a race.
The other Lamborghini-powered team have been in a class of their own in pre-qualifying so far this year and their great result at Silverstone – 4th and 6th – means they will be getting a lie-in on a Friday morning from now on. They still have reliability problems, but have finished just outside the points often enough that they must be confident of scoring again before the end of the season.
What a disaster. The clunky, overweight C3B chassis with its clunky, overweight Subaru 1235 Flat 12 engine has not even looked like prequalifying so far and Carlo Chiti’s Motori Moderni concern (who actually designed and built the engine) had not done their already tarnished reputation any favours. The only thing stopping Coloni from being the laughing stock of the paddock is the existence of the even more risible Life team.
Another team having a pretty bad year, though the EuroBrun squad seem to have little other kind. With lack of money meaning no testing and precious little development, Moreno has done well to drag the thing into the race twice so far, but you have to wonder why they even bothered to expand to two cars if Claudio Langes seems only to be given enough laps to have “entered” by the letter of the rule and avoid a fine.
The Onyx team’s story has been many things but not dull; however the current shenanigans with new owner Peter Monteverdi attempting to move the team – over the vocal objections of most of its staff – to a new base in Switzerland, Karl Foitek hiring his son and a threatened lawsuit from spurned driver Stefan Johansson and other top personnel may well be the end, sooner or later, of what looked like a promising squad just a year ago.
One disadvantage of the new regulations making entry to F1 more affordable is that every industrialist with money to burn seems to regard the sport as a potential billboard. Gunter Schmid tried with Rial for two lean seasons, and Ernesto Vita can only envy his success. To put it bluntly, his car doesn’t work. The “revolutionary” engine he’s trying to promote can’t do more than a lap or two before giving up and the chassis, lest we forget, was disowned by its original designer as unsafe. Lap times, when they are set at all, are hilariously off the pace. Perhaps the best we can hope for from Life is that they make it to the end of the season without killing or seriously injuring the affable Giacomelli, or anyone else.
The British Grand Prix was the home race for many of the constructors, but had taken on an additional significance for the minor teams in 1989 and again this year as it was the 8th race of the season after which the Pre-Qualifiers would be reassessed. But what the hordes packing into the Northamptonshire circuit were interested in was Nigel Mansell and his continuing struggles with the Ferrari. He’d taken pole in France but was a victim again of his car’s unreliability. Could he break his 1990 duck on home ground, where he usually went well? Ferrari had beaten McLaren twice in succession so far, after all. Almost unnoticed in all the Mansell-Mania was that here his former team-mate Riccardo Patrese would become the first driver to start 200 races.
This would be the last race on the high-speed Silverstone circuit – an updated, lower-speed but higher-challenge circuit had been designed and – with funding from Tom Walkinshaw – the construction teams were visible around the circuit ready to swing into action. Once more, the two Larrousse cars cruised through PQ with ease and were joined in the main session once again by Tarquini and Grouillard, with Langes, Gachot and Giacomelli once more far adrift of everyone else. Qualifying proper saw Mansell take his second pole in a row – and a career 14th – with a stonking lap, a comparatively huge 0.6s ahead of second-placed Senna. Berger was second and Boutsen third, the Renault engine on song here. In fifth was Prost, alongside Jean Alesi in the Tyrrell, who didn’t seem to have got the memo that this was a power circuit and he wasn’t supposed to be this high up. In seventh was Patrese, and then, sensationally, were Bernard and Suzuki in the Larrousse cars, 8th and 9th. Ivan Capelli lined up 10th, hoping to prove France wasn’t just a fluke and the team had put their problems behind them. The Benettons of Piquet and Nannini could only manage 11th and 13th, but Nelson was very confident in the new high-revving Ford V8 and had reportedly placed a sizeable bet on himself to win. Grouillard and David Brabham were joined in non-qualification by Foitek and Lehto, whose newly-renamed Monteverdi Onyx team seemed to be falling apart rapidly as its owners continued to try and force through a relocation to Switzerland.
With Mansell fastest in the warmup – and Piquet a promising second with that new engine – the fans were looking forward to the race which took place in glorious sunshine and 30-degree temperatures. However, when the lights went green it was Senna who got away fastest, with Mansell and Berger hot on his heels. Piquet, meanwhile, remained stationary, his engine stalled – he got moving eventually, now at the back of the field.
Mansell wasn’t about to let his Brazilian rival disappear off into the distance as usual, though, and as the opening laps of the race played out, he stuck doggedly with the McLaren, looking for a way past. On lap 9, he made it past at Bridge, but ran wide on the exit and couldn’t hold the position. Not daunted, he kept at it and on lap 12 he was ahead again, to stay this time. Two laps after that, Senna had an uncharacteristic spin and dropped to fifth, then to tenth a few laps later as he pitted to replace his flat-spotted tyres.
So Mansell now led Berger by about 3 seconds, with Prost third, Boutsen fourth and Suzuki a very impressive fifth place – the first time he had run in the points. Meanwhile, in 8th place, ahead of Ayrton Senna, was Nelson Piquet, who had been carving through the field like a hot knife through butter and had made up 18 places in 14 laps! His team-mate Nannini had also been doing well, qualifying in 13th and making his way up to 10th before colliding with Patrese on lap 16 and retiring – Patrese made his way in for repairs before returning to the race some way back.
On lap 21, Mansell’s engine started making funny noises, suddenly rising and falling in pitch in unfamiliar places; his gearbox was acting up again. Berger rapidly caught and passed the home hero, who was nonetheless able to keep his car going sufficiently quickly to retain second place. In fact, to the relief of the crowd he seemed to get it under control again and caught up with Berger – having handling problems of his own – and re-took the lead on lap 28, with Prost following through three laps later to make it a Ferrari 1-2 as they approached half distance. Senna, meanwhile, was stuck back in 9th, having passed Martin Donnelly but no-one else. Behind Berger, Capelli had made his way past Boutsen and up to fourth, with Piquet now sixth and still charging.
For some time, the gap between Mansell and Prost remained stable with the Frenchman seemingly not pushing, but gradually the number 2 Ferrari began to slow and Prost caught up. On lap 43, he was past and Mansell was clearly struggling. For another 12 laps he held on but it was not to be – with just nine laps to go he pulled over and, furious, got out of the car, flung his driving gloves into the crowd and stormed off. The fans began also to depart. Meanwhile, Ivan Capelli’s fine race had similarly run its course, the Leyton House out with a fuel leak.
So Prost led Berger and Boutsen with Senna now up to fourth past Piquet who had had a spin and was down to fifth. Despite Senna’s fine run, McLaren were having a bad day at
the office by their standards and it only got worse when Berger’s throttle packed up just a few laps before the end and he was out, promoting Boutsen to second, Senna onto the podium and Aguri Suzuki into sixth – both Larrousses now in the points. On the final corner, Eric Bernard elbowed his way past Piquet to take a fine fourth place and seal a very good day for the Larrousse team. Alain Prost moved to the top of the Drivers’ Championship table – the first time since 1987 that anyone other than a McLaren driver had been there.
Following the race, Nigel Mansell held a press conference to announce that he had decided to retire at the end of the season after ten years in Formula One. “It’s nothing to do with today”, he reassured everyone, saying that he had been considering it for some time and was looking forward to working on his golf handicap…
The French Grand Prix, in a masterpiece of bad timing, fell on the same day as the World Cup final in Rome – fortunately for concentration during the race, the final saw Argentina play West Germany: neither country had any representation in the F1 paddock. The “Ferrari derby” of Mansell’s England against Ferrari’s Italy for third place had been resolved in the latter’s favour the previous day.
There were dismaying rumours circulating that this would be F1’s last visit to the popular circuit at Le Castellet with a new modern facility being built by the French government further north. If this was indeed the case, Prost would be even keener to record his fifth home win, and post-Mexico testing seemed promising for the Scuderia. Pre-qualifying saw four French cars going through, with the two Larrousse Lolas taking their habitual top two slots and the two AGSes also both making it through – Tarquini for the first time and Dalmas for the second. Life (pictured) put in their now traditional token appearance with no time set while Gachot could only manage a time of over four minutes in the terminally tubby Coloni-Subaru.
Qualifying proper did indeed end with a Ferrari at the head of the grid, but it was the wrong one for the home crowd: Mansell took top spot ahead of Berger, with Senna and Prost on row two. Behind them were Nannini and Patrese, with in 7th place a real surprise: Ivan Capelli’s Leyton House. Neither of the turquoise cars had qualified in Mexico and two of their main backroom men – Adrian Newey and Tim Holloway – had departed, but they had left behind them some aerodynamic revisions that seemed to have made a world of difference. Capelli’s team-mate Gugelmin was tenth, behind Boutsen and Piquet. David Brabham and Yannick Dalmas brought up the rear, with Barilla, Tarquini and both Onyx cars.
The lights went green on a scorching Provence Sunday and the cars erupted off the grid. Mansell led Berger and Senna into the first corner, while Prost was crowded out and dropped to sixth behind Nannini and Patrese. Mansell, though, seemed to be having a problem; Berger was in the lead and pulling out by the end of the lap and Senna was right on Mansell’s gearbox. As he too passed the Ferrari commentator Murray Walker wondered aloud whether the McLaren team had been sandbagging – deliberately underperforming, or at – so far this weekend. The top four – Berger, Senna, Mansell and Nannini – continued to run close together for lap after lap, with Senna unable to make an impression on Berger who was running less wing and was faster on the straights. Behind them, Prost was clearly being held up by Patrese but was likewise unable to get past thanks to the grunt of the Renault engine in the straights.
Piquet made the first stop for fresh tyres on lap 20, dropping from 7th to 15th but hoping that he would make up places as the others stopped, which promoted Alesi and Capelli to 7th and 8th respectively, the pair having an almighty scrap until the Tyrrell came in on lap 22. Soon Capelli was nipping at the heels of the Patrese/Prost battle, while Nannini almost bumped wheels with Mansell as he tried to make his way past. On lap 27, Prost peeled in for new tyres, still unable to get past Patrese – just as Senna took Berger for the lead and Mansell almost followed through as well. An uncharacteristically slow McLaren stop put Berger back on the track in 11th, with Patrese third and hot on his heels. Three laps later, Senna pitted for tyres and had an even worse stop than Berger, dropping to eighth.
All of this promoted Mansell to the lead but on lap 33 he was in for his stop – a good one this time – promoting Patrese, with Capelli behind and Gugelmin now third, with Prost chasing. Capelli overtook Patrese for the lead as the Italian came in himself, meaning that on the track the two Leyton House cars were running first and second – however they hadn’t stopped yet and Prost was gaining rapidly on Gugelmin with Nannini, Mansell and Senna following. So the question was how would it shake out when the Leyton House cars came in for tyres. Gugelmin was holding up Prost and Nannini was catching up, the Frenchman all the while trying to get past the Leyton House.
By lap 47, it was becoming obvious that Leyton House were in fact not going to stop, and now Nannini was right behind Prost and trying to get past the Ferrari, who was in turn becoming increasingly frustrated at his inability to get past Mauricio Gugelmin. Finally on lap 54 he sold the Brazilian a dummy and got past, setting off in pursuit of Capelli, who was starting to make the odd wobble suggestive of tyres going off. Nannini was now left behind Gugelmin with Mansell and Senna in 5th and 6th places gaining on him.
Prost soon reeled in Capelli as Nannini took Gugelmin four laps later, and the second Leyton House shortly afterwards toured off with a cracked fuel line. Tyres fading or no, Capelli kept Prost behind him for lap after lap and indeed put up the fastest lap on lap 62. But there were still 18 laps to go and Prost was determined. Mansell had come in the previous lap, dropping to eighth, and was charging back up, harrying Patrese for 7th place and setting fastest lap on lap 64. Capelli and Prost approached traffic – there had been relatively few retirements and there was still a lot of traffic on the circuit – but it was no problem for the Italian and he emerged the other side two seconds further ahead than he was earlier!
As the laps ticked down, the gap from Prost to Capelli got shorter, then longer, then shorter again but there was still no way past and the Miami Blue car had now led for over 40 laps. On lap 72 of 80, Mansell was harrying Berger for 6th when his engine let go and he pulled off – rumours were already rife that he was unhappy at Ferrari and this wouldn’t help. A couple of laps later, Prost was right up with Capelli and dodged out, but Capelli held the line and Prost had to start again. Nannini went out from a fine third place with electrical failure but all the attention was on the front.
Finally, with just three laps to go, and to the cheers of the crowd, Prost dived down the inside at the double right-hander and took the lead and pulled out a second a lap to take his 42nd Grand Prix win, his fifth in France and Ferrari’s landmark 100th Grand Prix. Capelli, with dropping fuel pressure in his last couple of laps, hung grimly on for a popular second place just 3 seconds ahead of Senna (who had been over 10 seconds behind when Capelli lost the lead), Piquet fourth, Berger fifth and Patrese. Like the Mexican and Canadian races, it had been a corker, and the 1990 season was shaping up to be a vintage one.
Prost thus closed up to within three points of Senna, and the two were equal on three wins each, and next up was Silverstone where Mansell would be determined to (and usually did) go well in front of his home fans. But lest we forget, it’s McLaren’s home race too and they wouldn’t want to have Ferrari put one over on them there.
While the Formula One circus moved south from Canada to Mexico, the eyes of much of the world were still trained on Europe, where the football World Cup was underway in Italy. The first of the knockout stages was beginning this weekend, with particular interest in the paddock being paid to the Brazil-Argentina clash in Turin taking place on race day, with Italy taking on Uruguay and England (having just scraped through the group stage) facing surprise package Cameroon. Football fans or not, the drivers and teams’ thoughts would be fixed on Mexico (whose team had been excluded after fielding ineligible players during the 1988 Olympics). Senna in particular had reason to celebrate – this would be his 100th Grand Prix start.
With no lineup changes, Pre-Qualifying took place with the usual four going through to the main session – today the order was Grouillard-Bernard-Moreno-Suzuki – with the AGSes just off the pace following the departure of technical director Hugues de Chaunac, with Claudio Langes putting up a token couple of laps for EuroBrun to comply with the rules (he had actually been sacked just before the Canadian race, only to be recalled to fulfil their requirement to field two cars). The farce that was Life Racing continued, with Bruno Giacomelli not even getting a single lap in before his engine blew.
As in Canada, the weather played a part in Qualifying, with a wet Saturday morning session seeing both Larrousse drivers have big offs. It was the usual McLaren pole, but Gerhard Berger instead of Senna. In fact the Brazilian was down in third place for his 100th Grand Prix, behind Riccardo Patrese. In fourth was Mansell after a fantastic effort. Boutsen and Alesi took up row 3, with Martini and Piquet on row 4. And Prost? After being unable to get his qualifying setup working, he decided to spend the rest of qualifying working on his race setup and could only manage 13th. Missing out on race day would be Roberto Moreno – disqualified for receiving a push start in Saturday’s qualifying session – along with Alex Caffi and both Leyton House cars amid rumours that designer Adrian Newey would be on his way sooner rather than later.
Sunday was sunny with clear skies and the drivers and teams knew that tyre choice would be vital – the abrasive, bumpy surface more suited to the harder “B” compound but the softer “C” offering more grip in the twisting infield section. In the event, the majority of the leading teams opted for the Cs, with Williams alone opting for Bs and Lotus mixing the two with Bs on the left side which got more wear. When the lights went green it was Riccardo Patrese who leaped into the lead with Berger dropping to third (perhaps being more circumspect with the start than usual) behind Senna. However, on harder tyres and without the extra horses of the Honda engine, by the time he came around to start lap two, he had Senna right alongside and he was soon past and Berger along with him. Behind Patrese was Boutsen, then Piquet and Alesi, with Mansell having dropped back to 7th.
Predictably enough, the McLarens immediately started pulling out a lead but behind them it was tremendous racing as Prost and Nannini both began to make their way up through the field and Piquet got past Patrese for third on lap 5. On lap 11, Emanuele Pirro became the first retirement, with engine failure, then on lap 12 there were three more: David Brabham went out with electrical problems and the two Japanese drivers, Suzuki and Nakajima, collided. That same lap, Berger (now some ten seconds behind Senna) came in for tyres, hoping to get his stop out of the way early and give himself an advantage later. He rejoined in 12th place, just as Eric Bernard completed Larrousse’s bad afternoon by retiring with brake failure.
Senna now led Piquet, Boutsen, Patrese, Mansell and Prost, with Nannini seventh. The Ferraris were going really well, particularly Prost, and now they began to put pressure on the Williamses ahead of them. Setting a series of fastest laps, Mansell reeled in Patrese, then Boutsen to go third by lap 32 with Prost still close behind in fourth place and Nannini had also made his way up into the points in sixth as Patrese struggled with his tyres. on lap 35 – around half distance – Mansell overtook his old rival Nelson Piquet for second place and Prost was not far behind, getting past on lap 41 as Piquet struggled on rapidly-wearing tyres and the Ferrari was running better and better with Prost putting up a series of fastest laps. Could the Ferraris even overhaul Senna and take the lead? The Brazilian was some distance ahead, but the scarlet cars were going great guns and nobody wanted to bet against them here.
While Mansell and Prost were slowly gaining on Senna, Berger was charging back up the field, now on the same combination of B and C compound tyres which Lotus had begun the race on. Up to 8th, he had Alesi between him and the points, and the nimble Tyrrell was struggling for pace on the long straights. On lap 46, Piquet came in for tyres, rejoining behind Berger and shuffling everyone up a place: Senna led Mansell, Prost, Boutsen, Nannini, Alesi and Berger. Slowly but surely Mansell and Prost chipped away at Senna’s lead, until on lap 54 Prost overtook his team-mate and set about reeling in his great rival. The laps ticked down and so did Senna’s lead, and commentators began to wonder aloud if there was something wrong with the McLaren. On lap 61, Prost was with Senna, and – almost anticlimactically – past and into the lead. The following lap, Mansell followed suit and it seemed certain that there was something amiss indeed with the McLaren. Two laps later we found out what as the slow puncture he’d been struggling with finally burts, leaving his right-rear tyre in shreds. Ron Dennis admitted he’d gambled in keeping Senna out in the hope of hanging on for third or fourth rather than bringing him in and dropping him right back.
So there were two Ferraris at the front for the first time since that famous win in Monza 1988, but closing at a rate of knots was Gerhard Berger, who had put up several fastest laps on his way to third and now had his old team-mate Mansell in his sights. Nigel had had a spin which he’d recovered from easily enough but lost time and with time running out, Berger passed him with a banzai manoeuvre on lap 67 of 69. Nigel was having none of it though, and stuck with Berger, staying in his slipstream until he moved out and pulled off a simply sensational move, going around the outside at the notorious high-speed Peraltada corner which ended the lap.
Alain Prost thus took his 41st career win and became the first multiple winner in Mexico since Jim Clark won three non-championship races, with Mansell second to complete a great weekend for the Scuderia after so many recent problems. Berger’s fine drive netted him third, with the Benettons of Nannini and Piquet fourth and sixth, sandwiching Boutsen’s Williams. Ferrari managed to take a chunk out of McLaren’s substantial Constructors’ Championship lead into the bargain.
Back across the Atlantic everyone went, though nobody minded the visit to Canada – always a good atmosphere and a circuit everyone enjoyed. Last year’s race had seen Thierry Boutsen take his maiden win in the rain, and the forecast suggested it might be wet again this year. With no changes to report – other than McLaren having finally got Gerhard Berger’s seat “90%” right for him – it was off to the Pre-Qualifying lottery on Friday morning, where Roberto Moreno managed to top the timings in the EuroBrun, nearly 19 seconds ahead of his team-mate Claudio Langes. Second was Grouillard in the sole Osella, and then the two Larrousse Lolas. Giacomelli managed to get seven laps out of the Life before its engine expired – a majority stakeholding in the struggling team has been bought out by an Italian conglomerate who are rumoured to be trying to buy Lotus’s old 1989 Judd engines.
With rain putting paid to Saturday’s session leaving just Friday’s times to decide the grid, it would be another all-McLaren front row with Senna pipping Berger to his 30th pole in 37 races by just 0.066s. Behind them were Prost and Nannini, with Piquet fifth – a good showing from the Benetton boys. Boutsen was sixth, Mansell and Alesi shared row four, and Patrese and Modena rounded out the top ten. Lotus had another encouraging session to line up 11th (Warwick) and 12th (Donnelly). Watching from the pitwall would be Roberto Moreno, Gugelmin (Capelli squeaked in in 24th), Barilla and Brabham, the latter two driving the circuit for the first time on Friday and unable to set a better time in Saturday’s rain.
Sunday dawned wet, but by the time of the race it had stopped and although the track was still wet, it was drying. Everybody was starting on wet tyres, but it was obvious that the decision on when to come in and change to slicks would be key – the choice made more interesting in that Pirelli (but not Goodyear) had an interim tyre, a grooved slick, available. Gerhard Berger got the best start – too good as it turned out; he moved a fraction of a second early, realised what he had done and lifted, just as the light went green and everyone else streamed away with Berger reacting fast enough to keep second behind Senna. Prost muffed his start and dropped back to sixth behind Nannini, Alesi and Piquet and by lap 4 had dropped behind Boutsen as well.
On lap 10, it was announced that Berger would be assessed a one-minute penalty at the end of the race, and the same lap Patrese was the first of the front runners to come in for slick tyres. Nannini caught and passed Berger for second, and as he did so Piquet moved up into third place past Alesi, whose wet tyres were rapidly going off on the drying track. Senna came in, leaving the Benettons first and second, but only briefly as everyone streamed in for tyres over the next few laps. Senna returned to the track just in front of Berger in second place, but moved over to allow Berger to pass. On lap 16, Nannini came in with a 16 second gap, but was stationary for a very long 13 seconds and emerged well behind. No sooner had he done so than he hit a stray groundhog out on the track and had to come back in for a new nose.
All of which left Berger ahead on the road and charging but effectively in 8th place, with Senna leading Prost, who was being challenged by 1989 winner Boutsen. Piquet was running fourth with Mansell fifth. On lap 20, Prost was balked by Larini, sticking doggedly to the dry line in his Ligier. Boutsen saw a chance and moved out, put his wheels on the wet bit and gracefully pirouetted into the side of Larini, taking both of them out and leaving Prost untouched. As Boutsen limped back to retire, Alesi spun at exactly the same spot and returned to the track, spreading gravel across the racing line.
Prost wasn’t free and clear yet though, because he now had Piquet behind and Mansell behind him, while working his way back up, Nannini hit a wet patch trying to pass Nakajima and slid backwards into a tyre wall and out of the race. Berger and Senna were up ahead on the track with plenty of traffic to keep them occupied. Alesi was in amongst this group, having dropped back after knocking off a front wing against de Cesaris, and emulated Nannini, hitting that same wet patch, shooting off backwards and ending up sitting on top of both Benetton and tyre wall, thankfully unhurt.
Berger was now running fifth on time, and with Senna acting as rear-gunner (unbeknown to everyone outside the McLaren garage, Senna was missing first gear) he was charging hard to try and make up time to the Prost/Piquet/Mansell battle. He had already lapped everyone up to 7th place on the track and would only need to catch up to them, not pass them, to take the position on times. All this time the battle for second was raging away, with the three cars running nose-to-tail for lap after lap, often looking like Piquet might get past Prost but never quite making it.
On lap 45, Patrese, having just been lapped by the Prost train, pulled in to retire with fading brakes, then on lap 49 Piquet finally got the line on Prost and made a neat pass, only to pull immediately away. The reigning Champion’s brakes were starting to fade and soon Mansell was past as well and chasing his former team-mate for second place. Putting up a fastest lap (that was almost immediately beaten by Senna), Mansell was closing rapidly on the Benetton in the closing laps, almost losing the car on the marbles as he passed Alex Caffi, too wrapped up in his own race to see the Ferrari coming. Instead of catching Nannini, he was now having to defend himself from Prost again. Berger, meanwhile, was putting up lap record after lap record as he tried to make up time.
Berger took the chequered flag first, with Senna undoubtedly the winner – but where would Berger finish on times? Piquet came home second, Mansell third and Prost … fifth! Berger took fourth place, splitting the two Ferraris. In sixth place for his and the team’s first points this year was Derek Warwick, with the second Lotus of Donnelly just behind. The team had had a good if unspectacular race, with the smooth power profile of the Lamborghini engine an advantage in the conditions.
The most famous and glamorous race of the year is always good for springing a surprise or two, with the difficulty of passing and the unforgiving nature of the circuit. The world of F1 never stands still and despite all the new kit on display at Imola the teams were still tinkering and testing. Leyton House in particular had had an awful season so far and were frantically trying to identify the problem, while Ferrari made yet more adjustments to their engine in the search for reliability.
Pre-Qualifying once again saw the Larrousse duo top of the charts, with Grouillard and Moreno again joining them. Giacomelli got eight whole laps in before his Life grenaded itself again while the unfortunate Bertrand Gachot looked (and probably felt) like he was trying to navigate a barge around. The two practice sessions saw Senna take his 45th career Pole but alongside was not the other McLaren of Berger, but Prost’s Ferrari. In a cracking third place was Jean Alesi, with Imola winner Patrese alongside. Berger and Boutsen occupied row 3, a frustrated Mansell 7th, Martini 8th with Pirro and Piquet filling out the top ten. At the back, David Brabham would make his Grand Prix debut from 25th with Lehto bringing up the rear in his Onyx. Watching from the sidelines would be Alboreto, Gugelmin, Grouillard and Moreno.
Getting into the first corner first is always vital at Monaco, and as a result there is often a pileup there as everyone tries to do just that. Not this year though – somehow – as Senna led Prost and Alesi through Ste-Devote and off up the hill to Massenet. As they wound their way round the streets, Alesi dived inside Prost at the Mirabeau right-hander and was through into second. Berger tried to follow through, but he was too late: Prost turned in and collected the McLaren. Both cars ground to a halt and so did everyone behind them. Out came the red flags and a second start was needed, with Prost and Berger running back to the pits to get in the spare cars – set up for Mansell and Senna respectively, so frantic adjustments were necessary.
The second start was as clean as the first, with Senna, Prost, Alesi and Berger leading away while Mansell got a slow start and dropped behind Martini. And for thirty laps, that’s how they stayed: Senna slowly drawing away while Prost, Alesi and Berger ran tightly together, keeping the spectators entertained with a three-way battle and, while none of them was able to pass, they were all going great guns trying. Behind them, the two Williams cars were having their own private battle with Patrese fending off Boutsen. Mansell, meanwhile, had got back past Martini and was now nipping at the Belgian’s heels. So much so, in fact that on lap 21 he bent his front wing on the back of the Williams and had to pit for a new one.
By this time, there had already been a string of retirements – Mansell rejoined 15th of 16 still running – and on lap 31 Alain Prost peeled into the pits and climbed out of his car, wiping battery acid off his hands after the one powering his semi-automatic gearbox exploded. Alesi and Berger went up into second and third, but with the Austrian missing first gear there was little he could do about the Tyrrell in front of him. On lap 34, Piquet did a Mansell, clipping his front wing on the back of Boutsen’s Williams and in his case he spun to a standstill on the Loews hairpin. A push-start got him going again – but also got him black-flagged under the new rule introduced after Senna had got going again with a push-start in Suzuka.
On lap 42, Patrese retired with a distributor failure, putting Boutsen up to fourth. The Belgian was also having car trouble, with his throttle stuck down forcing him to use the brake alone to control his speed. Behind him was Derek Warwick, having a rare good race in the Lotus, and in sixth place was Alliot having an equally rare good race for Ligier. Not for long though, as Nigel Mansell was on one of his famous charges and was soon past both and up into fifth place, before chasing Boutsen down and passing the faltering Williams for fourth on lap 55.
Ferrari’s apparent curse struck again, though, with Mansell suffering the exact same exploding battery problem as Prost on lap 64. Three laps later, Warwick’s fine race came to a frustrating end as he tapped a barrier and spun to a standstill – which nearly took Senna out of the race when a marshal gave him the wrong signal and he missed the stationary Lotus by inches. There was an exchange of impolite gestures between Senna and marshal next around. All of which left Boutsen back in fourth with Caffi now fifth and a ding-dong battle for sixth between Bernard and Foitek which was resolved in the Frenchman’s favour when the pair collided six laps before the end and bent Foitek’s Brabham so he was unable to continue.
Senna took a lights-to-flag victory, his third Monaco win, by just 1.1 seconds as he husbanded a misfiring engine to the end. Jean Alesi was a cracking second in his first-ever Monaco Grand Prix while Berger took third despite his missing first gear and the discomfort of using Senna’s car. Boutsen hung on for fourth, Caffi was fifth and Bernard sixth – potentially a vital point that would rescue Larrousse from pre-qualifying after Silverstone. These six were in fact the only finishers, with Foitek classified seventh and last. It had been an entertaining race, and one that Ferrari would be keen to forget.
For many, the Formula One season only truly begins with its arrival in Europe – an old-fashioned notion in a global sport, but this year there was a certain amount of truth to it. With six weeks between Brazil and San Marino, many teams had taken their 1989 cars to the flyaway races and would unveil their 1990 challengers at Imola: Ferrari revised their aerodynamics, suspension and suspension and christened the result the 641/2; Benetton’ had their sleek new B190 with its revised Ford V8; Brabham had their new BT59 chassis (with new paint job reflecting their new ownership by the Japanese Middlebridge group) and new Judd engine. Osella, Larrousse, AGS, Coloni and Onyx were all also running new chassis, but the one everyone was talking about was the new Tyrrell 019. Its front wing – which drew immediate comparisons to the WW2 “Stuka” dive-bomber – combined a high nose with low wings to assist airflow under the car while keeping the benefits of a low-set wing. Or at least that was the theory: how it went in practice remained to be seen.
There were driver moves too: Emanuele Pirro returned from illness and Gregor Foitek moved from Brabham to the Onyx team now part-owned by his father, displacing Stefan Johansson. For the likeable Swede this was the last straw and he, along with founder Mike Earle and designer Alan Jenkins left the team, threatening legal action against Peter Monteverdi. Gary Brabham had had enough of the Life team after just two races – frustrated with their utter ineptitude – and in his place came a bit of a surprise: Bruno Giacomelli, last seen in F1 driving the Toleman in 1983. However, all was not lost for the Brabham family: Sir Jack’s youngest son David had signed terms to replace Foitek at the “Family Firm”: a Brabham driving a Brabham for the first time in 20 years (pictured).
7. David Brabham
Like older brother Gary, David didn’t immediately turn to motorsport despite his pedigree. He played football as a youngster in England, then switched to Australian Rules when they moved back to Australia. At 17, though, he discovered karting and never looked back. After two years in karts he moved in 1985 into the “Ford Laser” series, in 1986 to Formula Ford 1600 and in 1987 he was Australian F2 champion (though admittedly that year’s F2 championship was but a single race) as well as racing in New Zealand, the US and South America before a move to Europe beckoned. As British F3 champion in 1989, he was able to raise sponsorship to enter Formula One, with a possible move to his namesake team a particular draw for sponsors.
39. Bruno Giacomelli
Giacomelli’s last season in Formula One in 1983 had seen him comprehensively outperformed by Derek Warwick at a Toleman team that had just started becoming a force and would hire Ayrton Senna for the forthcoming season. Giacomelli moved over to IndyCar racing, initially with Teddy Yip’s Theodore outfit (another casualty of the 1983 F1 season) and later with Patrick Racing, but a fifth place at Meadowlands in 1985 was the high point of his CART career and he moved on to sportscars, entering individual Enduro Racing events and most recently entering most of the 1989 season for Mussato Action Cars. He was approached over the winter by the March team to test the new Leyton House car, and thus reappeared on the F1 radar at 38, just when Life were looking for an experienced development driver.
With so many new cars on track, even the Pre-Qualifying sessions were of intense interest. There were no real surprises in the early session though – the Larrousse Lolas were quickest again, with Grouillard and Moreno also making it through – AGS withdrew Yannick Dalmas with a hand injury and Tarquini failed to set a time, while Giacomelli’s return to F1 wasn’t a success, posting a best time nearly six minutes off Bernard’s.
Qualifying saw almost all of the top half of the grid sorted into teams: McLaren 1st (Senna) and 2nd (Berger), Williams 3rd (Patrese) and 4th (Boutsen), Ferrari 5th (Mansell) and 6th (Prost) – almost identical to Brazil’s grid in fact. Behind the top six was Alesi in the new Tyrrell – just him, with Nakajima back in 19th – then it was back to the pairs: Piquet and Nannini 8th and 9th for Benetton, then the Lotuses a very encouraging 10th and 11th (Warwick and Donnelly), with Gugelmin a very encouraging 12th behind them. Pierluigi Martini had actually set a time good enough for 10th, but had to pull out after having a big crash at Acqua Minerale on Saturday and being hospitalised with a cracked ankle. His misfortune was his team-mate’s gain, as the grid shuffled up and allowed Paolo Barilla to start in 26th. Still, Minardi were buoyed by the news that they would in 1991 become the first team to run customer Ferrari engines. Non-qualifyers were, shockingly, both Arrows cars (“not fast enough”) and less shockingly, David Brabham, still getting the feel of the car.
The grid formed up after the formation lap less Emanuele Pirro who had stalled and would start from the back instead of his 21st grid position, and off they went. Senna got away cleanly, pursued by Berger and the Williams twins, with Boutsen getting ahead of Patrese. Behind them, as the field streamed around Tamburello, Mansell put a wheel on the dirt and kicked up a great cloud of dust. Unsighted, Ivan Capelli and Satoru Nakajima collided and collected the hapless Moreno on their way off the circuit – all three were out on the spot. Martin Donnelly nearly joined them with a 360 degree spin at Tosa, but somehow nobody hit the revolving Lotus and he rejoined, albeit some way back.
The first-lap drama wasn’t over yet though as Alesi managed to elbow his way past both Ferraris (not a popular move in front of the Tifosi) while Thierry Boutsen did something that it had been looking increasingly like a physical imposibility: he overtook a McLaren. On the track, fair and square, with no technical faults. 1990 really was turning out to be an interesting season!
The order then settled down a little with Senna leading Boutsen, Berger, Patrese and Alesi, who lost his place to Mansell on lap 3. On the following lap, leader Senna suddenly wobbled, and swerved into the kitty litter at Rivazza – a broken wheel: a rare technical defect on the well-prepared McLaren. So Boutsen led Berger, and with the new evolution Renault V10 engine on song and driving his usual smooth race, he was able to stay well ahead. But unfortunately, his Williams had a small problem – a sticking gear lever. On lap 18, this caused him to select 1st instead of 3rd and his engine objected in the most spectacular fashion.
Berger now inherited the lead with Patrese some distance behind and Mansell going great guns in third. The Briton was the fastest man on the circuit but his Ferrari was emitting that bluish smoke that had presaged Prost’s problems in Phoenix. Nonetheless he caught up to Patrese and then really gave the Tifosi something to cheer with a banzai overtaking manoeuvre on lap 22 at Tosa before setting off in pursuit of Berger. By lap 25, the gap was 3.1 seconds but Mansell was seriously delayed by Andrea de Cesaris, apparently not looking in his mirrors, who cut him up badly and made contact – fortunately for Mansell, no damage other than the time delay was incurred and he went on his way, with all the work to catch Berger to do again, and Patrese back on his gearbox again. So, being Nigel Mansell, he got on with it and charged again, reeling Berger in until at the start of lap 36 he was right behind his former team-mate. As they shot into the fast Tamburello curve, Mansell came out to pass up the inside, but the fans’ cheers turned to dismay as Berger moved over, forcing Mansell to take to the grass in a huge, balletic 360-degree spin. In a wonder of car control, he kept the engine running and didn’t even lose second place but his radiators were full of dirt, his engine overheated after three laps and he limped into the pits to retire, furious at Berger for the manoeuvre.
So Berger still led with Patrese second once again. Nannini had driven a great race and was third, duelling with Prost after the Ferrari had stopped for new softer tyres, while Piquet and Alesi were both driving relatively isolated races in 5th and 6th. Riccardo Patrese had been leading the race in 1983 in the Brabham when with just five laps to go he had made an unforced error and chucked it in the gravel at Acqua Minarale. Now he seemed to be intent on redeeming himself in the eyes of his countrymen and was on a charge of his own. On lap 40 he was 5.5s behind. On lap 50, he was right on the McLaren’s tail and the next lap he was past- to the rousing cheers of the fans. By this time, Berger was experiencing power loss, and had additionally ended up making a bad call on tyres, so wasn’t able to stay with Patrese and was in fact being caught by the Nannini-Prost battle for third which was now taking most of the fans’ attention.
The new B190 was flying and Prost, though tucked right under its rear wing, just couldn’t find enough momentum for a way past, however he tried. On the penultimate lap, Nannini set the fastest lap of the race while Prost clocked the second-fastest, just 8 thousandths slower. No last minute overtaking today though, and no silly mistakes. Riccardo Patrese – driving with tears in his eyes on the last lap, he said later – came in to record his third career win, a record 98 races after his second, in his record 195th Grand Prix. Berger held on to second, Nannini to third and Prost finished a reasonably satisfied third. Nelson Piquet steered his Benetton home to fifth – the only driver to have scored in every race so far – and Alesi picked up the final point, followed home by Warwick and Donnelly in formation, both Loti finishing for the first time in 1990.
So, three races and three winners from three different teams. Success for the new Benetton and Tyrrell cars, the jury still out on Ferrari, and next up – Monaco.