30 July 1989
The game of driver musical chairs continued in Germany as a familiar face returned. Michele Alboreto had lost his seat at Tyrrell after a sponsorship clash, but in the intervening weeks had lost his personal Marlboro backing, which freed him up to join the (ironically Camel-backed) Larrousse team. From World Championship runner up in 1985 to pre-qualifying in 1989 – but it kept him in employment and if he could do well he could perhaps parlay it into a better drive for 1990.
Meanwhile the Lotus team were having problems behind the scenes: Chairman Fred Bushell had been arrested and bailed over financial irregularities stemming from the Delorean Cars affair, manager Peter Warr had suddenly left to “pursue other career opportunities”. Their replacmenents were popular board member Tony Rudd (an engineer who had among other things led the research into the Ground Effect that had proved so dominant in 1978), and as team manager Rupert Mainwaring, another popular and cheerful choice. The atmosphere in the team seemed immediately more positive, but it remained to be seen whether this would result in a better on track performance.
Pre-qualifying saw the Onyx cars head the timing sheets with Gachot top and Johansson second, followed by the Lolas of Alliot and Alboreto. A new EuroBrun (left) for Foitek was gratefully received but didn’t help matters for the struggling team. Qualifying proper saw the McLarens dominant as expected on this circuit that rewarded power above all else, with Mansell and Berger in the Ferraris on row two, some 1.7 and 2.1 seconds respectively behind Senna’s pole time. Row three was the Williams cars, Patrese ahead of Boutsen, and then came the Benettons of Nannini 7th and Pirro (now in his own B189) ninth, sandwiching Piquet who had had a great qualifying on a circuit he liked to qualify 8th. In tenth place was Alesi in the Tyrrell, just ahead of Grouillard’s Ligier. The Arrows cars struggled again with setup and were 17th (Warwick) and 25th (Cheever), with Alboreto lining up last. The non-qualifiers were Perez-Sala, Gachot and both Rials (right), with Weidler being excluded anyway for receiving a push-start.
Race day was warm and dry, perfect conditions for a race and when the lights went green it was Gerhard Berger who got the best start, rocketing from fourth around the outside to take the lead, while further back Alliot was hit in the back and slewed onto the grass, though he kept it going and rejoined at the back. Berger didn’t stay ahead for long as the power of the Honda V10s told and Senna and Prost were soon past and pulling away, with Prost keenly looking for a way past and Senna just as keen to stay ahead and keep his title defence alive. About two seconds back, Berger and Mansell were having a similar scrap over third. Boutsen lost fifth when he was punted off by Pirro, and Nannini went off two laps later. On lap fourteen, the luckless Berger had his second major off of the year – a left-rear blowout at 200mph sending him straight on at the chicane, launched across the kerbs and then the disintegrating Ferrari slewing back across the track across Mansell’s path. No harm done to Gerhard, but Mansell was held up and Berger was out yet again.
So it was Senna, Prost and Mansell, then Pirro, Patrese and Piquet. Behind the Lotus, Alesi led a five-car train including Gugelmin, Nakajima, Modena and Warwick all scrapping over seventh through eleventh places. On lap 17, unable to get past Senna, Prost decided to come in for a tyre stop instead, and the stop took 18 seconds as the team had to recheck the right-rear wheel nut. Mansell went into second, but was in himself the next lap and was also held up while the team fiddled with a wheel nut. Senna, now leading by some distance, came in himself on lap 19. Incredibly, he was *also* delayed – this time to the tune of 23 seconds, as the usually efficient McLaren team fumbled his right rear wheel nut too. He shot out of pits and onto the track – now behind Alain Prost!
On lap 27, Pirro’s fine drive came to a spectacular end as he got it wrong on the entrance to the stadium section and went smashing through a series of polystyrene blocks, one of which bounced off his helmet on the way, so he was given medical attention trackside and sent off to hospital for a checkup. Meanwhile, Prost – leading by about 5 seconds by now – had come up on a gaggle of backmarkers and this allowed Senna to begin closing up again.
With just three laps to go Senna was only a second behind, but overtaking was always difficult here and it looked like he’d have to settle for second – until, on the following lap, Prost slowed dramatically, his gearbox having lost sixth. He reluctantly pulled over and allowed Senna through to take his fourth win of the year. Prost did have sufficient lead over Mansell to limp in second, with the Ferrari a distant third. Patrese, Piquet and a delighted Warwick took the other points finishes. We may have been denied a dramatic battle to the flag, but the championship wasn’t over quite yet.
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.