16 July 1989
The teams arrived at Silverstone in the middle of an uncharacteristically blazing British summer with the rumour mill still going at full tilt following Alain Prost’s announcement in France. One piece of the puzzle was sorted, at least, which was that Gerhard Berger would be moving to McLaren as Prost’s replacement. The Woking team, conscious that the others were starting to catch up, introduced their new-for-89 transverse gearbox and redesigned rear suspension which they hoped would recapture the edge. This was the 8th race of the season and after the British Grand Prix the pre-qualifiers would be re-evaluated: Brabham and Dallara had probably done enough to escape already, and Onyx’s points in France would see them out as long as Minardi scored two points or less this weekend, or Onyx scored more. After France’s round of musical chairs, there were just two changes in the driver lineup: Derek Warwick returned, still nursing a slightly tender back, and AGS replaced Jo Winkelhock (who had failed to pre-qualify at every race) with Yannick Dalmas. Michele Alboreto was now said to have “permanently” left the Tyrrell team, who announced that Jean Alesi would drive for the remainder of the season, except when there were clashes with his F3000 commitments.
Pre-qualifying saw Gachot’s Onyx top the timing sheets with Larini’s Osella second and the Brabhams third and fourth – the high-speed circuit not suiting the under-powered Judd engine. Ayrton Senna returned to Pole Position with Prost once again alongside, and behind them the Ferraris lined up on row two, Mansell ahead of Berger to cheer the home fans. Patrese and Boutsen were 5th and 7th with the Marches of Gugelmin and Capelli 6th and 8th respectively. Nannini and Piquet rounded out the top ten – the Lotus driver and fast-circuit enthusiast having a rare good qualifying session. Pierluigi Martini had a great qualifying to line up 11th with Sala 15th – Minardi doing their bit to stay out of pre-qualifying – while Gachot lined up 21st in the sole Onyx. The back row consisted of de Cesaris and Pirro (still using the old B188), with Arnoux, Cheever, Tarquini and Danner missing the cut.
Gugelmin’s fine qualifying came to naught as his car developed a water leak on the parade lap and he started the second race in a row from the pit lane. Otherwise, the start was clean and Senna and Prost charged side-by-side for Copse Corner; Prost got the better start but Senna was even later on the brakes and got through first, with Prost, Mansell and Berger hot on his heels. The Austrian, McLaren-bound for 1990, lasted all of four laps before having to come in to have an electrical problem looked at, which promoted Boutsen and Patrese to fourth and fifth. The Belgian was having clutch problems, and Mansell was pulling away and setting a series of fastest laps as he chased Prost and Senna.
Then, on lap 12, the lead McLaren swapped ends at Becketts and Senna found himself in a gravel trap and not going anywhere. For the fourth race in a row, the reigning champion would not be scoring any points. Initially it looked like a simple driving error, but it was in fact the new gearbox which let him down at the wrong moment. So Prost went through to the lead with Mansell still chasing hard and the partisan crowd with their newly-purchased Ferrari flags roaring him on. Meanwhile a terrific four-way scrap for the remaining points paying positions was underway. Patrese had got past a faltering Boutsen, who now had Nannini glued to his rear wing, while Nelson Piquet was harrying the Benetton in turn. In fact, he soon got past and then disposed of Boutsen. On lap 24, fourth became third as Patrese had a big off when a stone punctured his radiator and sprayed water all over his rear tyres. Riccardo was unhurt but wouldn’t be making his fifth successive podium visit today. So Prost led Mansell, Piquet, Nannini and Mauricio Gugelmin, who had driven a cracking race to get back up to fifth from a pitlane start by lap 28. Boutsen was hanging on in sixth place with a dicky clutch, aware that there wasn’t much the team could do if he came in.
And that was how it stayed for 30 laps or so – not that the British fans minded. “Our Nige” had won here in 1986 and 87, driven a storming race to come second in 1988 despite the limitations of his Williams-Judd and now was showing every sign of being on for a third win in four years as he flung the car around trying to get to grips with Prost. On lap 39, the crowd spotted the merest wisps of smoke coming from the back of Prost’s McLaren – was this the gearbox problem again? Before the fans could get too excited, Mansell slowed dramatically and peeled into the pits with a punctured front tyre. He returned to the track some 50 second behind Prost and looked like he would have to settle for second. Or would he? Because on lap 49, Prost came in for fresh boots and a stuck wheelnut delayed him sufficiently to put Mansell back in the hunt.
Meanwhile, Nelson Piquet was holding third but had not stopped for new tyres, while Nannini had taken the chance and done so, and was now catching the Lotus again, finally getting past on lap 56 of 64, two laps after Gugelmin’s fine drive ended with a smoking Judd engine – more bad luck for the March team. At the front, though, despite setting the fastest lap Mansell couldn’t make any impression on Prost, who didn’t seem to have a gearbox problem after all, and that was how they finished: Prost took his third win of the year to extend his championship lead to 20 points over Senna; Mansell took a richly-deserved second place and Nannini was third. Nelson Piquet’s fourth place removed any last chance that Lotus would suffer the ignominy of pre-qualifying, and in fifth and sixth place were a jubilant Pierluigi Martini and Luis Perez-Sala, scoring three points for Minardi which were exactly what the team needed to escape those early Friday morning sessions – the team’s first-ever double points finish and Sala’s first ever points. This brought the number of drivers scoring points so far to a whopping 25 – and we were only halfway through as yet.
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
|=||Jean Alesi||3||18||René Arnoux||2|
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.