Circuit de Monte-Carlo
7 May 1989
Since the Imola race, attention had primarily been given to two subjects: how serious Gerhard Berger’s injuries from Imola were and how soon he might return, and what had been going on on the podium between Senna and Prost. On the first of these subjects we were all gratified to hear that the genial Austrian had (miraculously) suffered not much more than a couple of minor fractures and some more serious burns. He wouldn’t be driving in Monaco and the team elected to just run a single car, but with another three weeks before the next race in Mexico he might be back in time to race. Meanwhile, the disqualifications of Boutsen and Caffi from the last race had been rescinded on appeal – good news for them, less good for poor Gabriele Tarquini and AGS, who had their point taken away..
As to the Prost/Senna frostiness, after a couple of slightly cryptic statements (most notably an accusation from the normally equable Prost that Senna was “dishonest”, the following picture had gradually emerged: at Senna’s suggestion, the drivers had agreed that whoever made it into Tosa first wouldn’t be challenged by the other driver and would be allowed to take the race win. However, the second start had complicated matters. Prost treated it as just that, a second start, and went ahead expecting Senna to defer as per their agreement, only to be upset when the Brazilian barged past. Senna, however, believed it to be a continuation of the first race and was upset when Prost took the lead apparently in contravention of their agreement. Both therefore felt aggrieved at the other, and we’d have to see how this affected their relationship going forward.
Back to the present, anyway. The principality was woken early on Thursday morning – the Monaco weekend is usually spread over four days instead of the usual three – by the roar of engines as Pre-Qualifying got going. The Brabham team did well once again, with Stefano Modena topping the standings, though Martin Brundle was struggling with a cold and only just squeaked through in fourth. Between the two were Caffi and, for the first time, Pierre-Henri Raphanel in his Coloni (pictured). Once again, the Osella, Zakspeed and Onyx teams would be packing their bags before the weekend had got going as both of their cars failed to pre-qualify.
Qualifying proper ended to no-one’s great surprise with an all-McLaren front row, Senna a whole second ahead of Prost after a stonking second session. In third was an excellent Boutsen, and in fourth a stunning Martin Brundle, making the most of Pirelli’s excellent qualifying tyres to take his highest-ever podium place. Modena in the other Tyrrell was a career-best 8th, and between the two Mansell was fifth, Warwick sixth and Patrese 7th. Row five saw both Dallaras, with Caffi 9th and de Cesaris 10th. Both Colonis qualified for the first time ever with Raphanel making his race day debut in 18th – ahead of Piquet – and Danner, Dalmas and Nakajima all failing to make the grid. March, now wholly owned by Akira Akagi and with additional sponsorship from Autoglass, debuted their new car, the CG891, to disappointing results; 14th (Gugelmin) and 22nd (Capelli).
The first start was aborted when Patrese suddenly lost fuel pressure as the red lights came on. As everyone else departed on a new formation lap, he was restarted and headed off to start from the rear. On the second attempt they got away, with Prost and Senna both intent on beating the other into the first corner – all-important in the principality where overtaking is very difficult. It was Senna who got through first while Prost – gunning for a record fifth Monaco win – had to settle for second. Boutsen followed through in third, with Mansell getting ahead of Brundle. For a change, all the runners got through Saint-Devote in one piece, and Senna immediately began to open up a lead with Prost chasing. Patrese was working his way up from the back, meanwhile, disposing of Nelson Piquet.
Senna, with Prost tucked under his rear wing, continued to power away from the rest of the field – over 2s ahead of Boutsen by lap 5. Behind Mansell, Brundle was running well in 5th and looking like he belonged in the points in the new Brabham, followed by a similarly impressive Dallara with de Cesaris at the wheel. Before long, Patrese peeled in for the Williams team to have a fiddle with his rear wing. By lap 15, as Senna set a fastest lap, Brundle was challenging Mansell for fourth as the pair carved through traffic, and that became a battle for third as Boutsen also came in for a new rear wing.
Senna, meanwhile, was carving through the traffic which seemed to simply melt out of the way in front of him, then return to balk Prost. In particular, his old team-mate and rival Rene Arnoux seemed to take great delight in blocking him for lap after lap, despite blue flags and shouts from marshals, and to the vocal displeasure of many commentators – notably the BBC’s James Hunt. The ever-diplomatic Murray Walker reported that Arnoux had claimed his lack of speed these days was down to not being used to atmo cars. “Bullshit!” said Hunt, live on television, getting himself into trouble. By the time Prost finally muscled his way past the Ligier, he was 15 seconds behind Senna and the race was as good as over. Brundle, meanwhile, had got past Mansell as the pair fought their way through traffic themselves, but before much longer on lap 31, Mansell slowed dramatically and pulled over, with a broken gearbox.
A couple of laps later, a struggling Piquet was being lapped by an excellent Andrea de Cesaris, running fourth in the Dallara, and the pair collided right on the racing line at the hairpin, causing a real snarl-up on the track as cars queued to get by – the Lotus was out but de Cesaris kept his Dallara running and limped back to the pits for repairs. By half-distance, Senna led Prost by some distance, while Martin Brundle in third was consistently lapping faster than Prost and Senna, and was catching the Frenchman for third. Behind Brundle was his team-mate Modena, then Alex Caffi, Tarquini running well in the AGS sixth and Alboreto 7th in the Tyrrell. 7th became 6th when Tarquini’s electrics went phut on lap 46, and three laps later Brundle’s impressive run came to an end as he toured in to the pits and hopped out. Some fiddling in the cockpit to replace a battery later, he was underway again, now down in tenth. He wasn’t done yet, though, and charged up through the places, taking Palmer, Boutsen and Cheever to be 7th with a couple of laps to go, but a huge gap to Capelli, running sixth in the new March. He really deserved a point and got it, when Capelli’s engine expired with
And that was where they finished in the end: a dominant win for Senna, Prost coming second for the third race in a row to equal Senna on points and Stefano Modena taking his first podium place – his first points indeed – and a fine reward to Brabham for their comeback efforts. Caffi scored his first points in fourth, Alboreto was 5th and Brundle picked up the last point in 6th. A fillip to Brabham, Dallara and Tyrrell, but more McLaren dominance.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.