Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
18 June 1989
Two weeks after Phoenix and the teams arrived at a circuit unambiguously loved by most. The death of hero Gilles Villeneuve back in 1982 didn’t seem to have dimmed Canadian enthusiasm for Formula One – in marked contrast to the USA. Meanwhile Riccardo Patrese’s heroics for Williams had apparently borne fruit as the team were able to announce they would continue to have exclusive use of Renault engines in 1990. There was other news in the pitlane too: Coloni had their new car, the C189, finally ready with a smart white, grey and blue paint job replacing the garish yellow and a three-shaft gearbox and innovative front suspension. Elsewhere the rumour mill was swirling with Ferrari designer John Barnard reportedly turning down a contract renewal for 1990, Arnoux tipped to retire at the end of the season and Lotus again tipped to lose their lucrative Camel sponsorship.
Pre-qualifying again saw Modena top the timing charts, but after having numerous car problems, particularly with the revised braking system, Martin Brundle missed the cut for the first time in 1989. Instead, Alex Caffi and Stefan Johansson were joined by Nicola Larini, whose Osella saw a marked increase in performance with better Pirelli rubber and a rebuilt chassis. Qualifying proper was mostly decided on Friday afternoon’s session because Saturday saw the weather turn cold, windy and wet. A couple of drivers did manage to improve on their Friday times by going out early – particularly Roberto Moreno who hadn’t set a time on Friday. At the front of the grid it was, naturally, both McLarens but Alain Prost took his first pole position since Portugal 1988 to break Senna’s run of eight. On row two were Patrese and Berger, with Mansell in fifth in the second Ferrari. In 6th place, starting his 95th Grand Prix, was Thierry Boutsen, with pre-qualifiers Modena and Caffi lining up 7th and 8th. De Cesaris in the second Dallara started a great 9th with Alliot an equally impressive 10th. Benetton were having a nightmare weekend, with Nannini down in 13th and Herbert failing for the first time to qualify, and Lotus’s full-blown nightmare season continued with Piquet in 18th and Nakajima joining Herbert on the pitwall for the race. The pair were accompanied by Yannick Dalmas (who had yet to start a race in 1989) and Olivier Grouillard.
Sunday morning’s warmup was thoroughly wet and miserable and saw Mansell quickest but Moreno an eye-opening 5th fastest in the new Coloni, which would start 26th. By the time the teams lined up on the grid, though, the rain had stopped and the track looked like it was drying out a bit. In fact, while everyone had lined up on wet tyres, after the formation lap Mansell and Nannini decided to come in straight away for slicks, peeling into the pits rather than taking their grid places in the hope that despite starting from the pits they would steal a march on the rest. Unfortunately for them there was a signalling mix-up, and the pair were released back onto the circuit after the start procedure had begun and just 17 seconds before the lights went green. Another few seconds and they would have emerged right into the path of the starting cars. Despite it not really being their fault, the pair were black-flagged for their trouble.
The leaders got underway cleanly, with Prost taking the lead from Senna, with Patrese and Berger slotting in behind, though further back on the grid Modena and Martini collided and were both out. At the end of lap two, Prost came in to the pits – initially everyone assumed he was coming in for slick tyres, but instead he climbed out to retire with broken suspension – a genuine shock for “Team Perfect”.
So Senna now led Patrese, but only for two laps as he peeled in for slicks on lap 4, rejoining fifth and leaving Patrese in the lead and Boutsen now second. Berger got ahead of Boutsen but no sooner had he done so than – once again – his alternator packed up and he was out. So both Ferraris gone by lap 6 and now it was raining again. Would Senna have to come back in for wets? Not a bit of it – instead, he was reminding everyone that he is the acknowledged rainmaster by moving up the field despite his slick tyres, and it’s as well he didn’t come back in because it proved to be a short shower and by lap 12 the track was once again drying out and Senna was up to second with Boutsen having made an ill-advised stop for slicks. Stefan Johansson came in for a pitstop and left dragging an air-hose from his car – he was swiftly black-flagged, bringing the total number of disqualifications to three.
On lap 21, Senna finally did come in for wets as the rain seemed to be setting in for the duration, and dropped back to sixth again. Patrese now led with Derek Warwick an excellent second and Larini an outstanding third in the much-improved Osella, the pair followed by the Dallara twins of de Cesaris and Caffi. Senna set about once again charging up through the pack. On lap 33, Larini’s race ended heartbreakingly with electrical failure which put Senna third, and the following lap Patrese came in for new tyres, leaving Derek Warwick in the lead for the first time since his early days with Renault. It wasn’t to last, as Senna came by a couple of laps later, just as Jonathan Palmer opened a few eyes by putting up the fastest lap of the race as he charged. Sadly for the Britons, neither Palmer nor Warwick finished; Palmer spun off shortly after posting his hot lap, then Warwick’s engine conked out on lap 40.
Attention now turned to Thierry Boutsen, who had recovered from his pitstop and a 360-degree spin to charge up the field and was now in third and chasing his team-mate Patrese for second place. Unfortunately for the Italian, something in the diffuser had worked loose and he was losing downforce, so Boutsen was soon able to catch up. Getting past was another matter, though, and with the race now in its closing stages, Patrese was doing all he could to keep Boutsen behind. It wasn’t to be, though, and the Belgian found a way past on lap 67 of 69 to take a fine second place as Senna cruised to a famous win.
Only … he didn’t. Because just then, Senna’s Honda V10 made a noise like a sewing machine, spouted smoke, and seized up solid. He pulled over and Boutsen swept through to take his maiden win, with Patrese second for the third race running and Andrea de Cesaris taking a fine third place for the Scuderia Italia team. In a day of surprise results, Nelson Piquet had gamely steered his Lotus to fourth and the first points of the season for team and driver; Arnoux had done the same in fifth for Ligier and Alex Caffi came in sixth to put both Scuderia Italias in the points for the first time.
It’s always great when a driver takes a maiden win, and for it to be the quiet, popular Boutsen put smiles on a lot of faces. Not least in the Renault factory, where they hadn’t really expected to be winning just six races into their return to the sport. Next up was the French Grand Prix, where they would be expecially keen to do well.
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* Top 11 finishes only are counted.