Autodromo Nazionale di Monza
10 September 1989
Italy is traditionally the venue for major announcements about the year ahead, and 1989 was no exception as Alain Prost confirmed what many had suspected – that he would drive for Ferrari in 1990. Williams (who, the rumours had it, had also offered Prost a contract) announced an unchanged lineup for next year, but Lotus would have a very different package in 1990: Derek Warwick and Martin Donnelly, and Lamborghini engines. Where would Piquet go? Yet another press conference told the world that he would be in a Benetton alongside Nannini, with Herbert as test driver and Pirro free to seek other opportunities. Rumour had it in fact that Piquet would be paid not a standard retainer but on a pay-per-points basis – which made BBC commentator James Hunt wonder aloud if that meant they didn’t put much stock in his motivation, and if so, why sign him at all?
Back to the present, though, and Jean Alesi was back in the Tyrrell, while EuroBrun welcomed back 1988 driver Oscar Larrauri to see if he could do what Gregor Foitek had so far failed to do and pre-qualify. He couldn’t. Alliot and Alboreto in the Larrousses set the pace in PQ with a steady improvement in their Lamborghini engines (good news for Lotus next year) and financial restructuring behind the scenes. Accompanying them into qualifying proper were Nicola Larini in the Osella and Bertrand Gachot’s Onyx, with Johansson missing the cut by just 0.2s. Senna took his usual Pole position in main qualifying, but alongside was not team-mate Prost, but future team-mate Gerhard Berger. Mansell was third, and Prost fourth, some 1.7s adrift of Senna. Which just seemed to confirm to the Frenchman that either McLaren, or Honda, or both, were somehow “nobbling” his cars to ensure victory for Senna. The Williams pairing of Patrese and Boutsen took up row 3, Alliot a stunning 7th in the Larrousse Lola, then the two Benettons of Nannini and Pirro, and Jean Alesi parking his Tyrrell 10th. Piquet and Nakajima did at least both qualify this time, 11th and 19th respectively, with Eddie Cheever – 3rd in 1988 – joining the Rials and a disqualified Stefano Modena (missed weight check) in non-qualification.
It was soon clear that the Tifosi regarded Prost as one of their own already – in previous years he had been the popular villain, winning in French Renaults or British McLarens ahead of their Ferrari idols: everything from insults to fruit had been thrown. Now he was cheered and celebrated when he arrived at the track. On the grid, the McLaren engineers transferred all the settings from Senna’s car to Prost’s in response to his complaints about being down on power.
The lights went green and the field streamed down to the Rettifilio chicane, with Senna maintaining his lead followed by Berger, Mansell and Prost. Patrese got away a little slowly and was passed by both Boutsen and Nannini but otherwise the field was as per the grid. Senna was gradually easing out a gap from Berger, but it seemed to be Mansell having the duff Ferrari this time out as his developmental version of the Ferrari V12 engine wasn’t revving quite right. Prost, meanwhile, had Boutsen crawling all over his gearbox – Senna’s settings apparently not helping much. Pirro had disappeared on the first lap with a transmission failure, and Alliot squandered his good qualifying by throwing his Lola into a sand trap on lap two.
The field became more and more strung out over the first twenty laps or so until Prost managed to catch and pass a struggling Mansell, and set off after Berger knowing that he had to score well here because from the next race in Portugal onwards he would be discarding results again. Mansell was having now to fight hard to keep Boutsen behind him, while Senna responded to Prost’s advance by putting up fastest lap after fastest lap to draw out an even bigger gap to Berger, now at 17.5 seconds.
Prost slowly closed up on Berger and on lap 41 we had the unusual experience of watching the tifosi cheering wildly as a McLaren passed a Ferrari – Berger clearly on his way out, Prost on his way in! A lap later, Boutsen forced his way past Mansell, who coasted to a halt with gearbox problems and was applauded back to the pits by the Tifosi. So, yet another McLaren 1-2 with Berger third. Then, on lap 45 and to the delirious cheers of the crowd, Senna’s engine emitted a puff of smoke, the rear wheels stepped out on the oil and he was out. With just a few laps left, Berger – still only 4 seconds behind – had a sudden hope of a second successive Ferrari win at Monza, but it was not to be. Alain Prost took the win to the delight of the tifosi, with Berger holding on to finish – finally! – second. Boutsen was third and Patrese fourth in the Williams FW12C’s last outing with the new FW13 at last available from Portugal onwards. Jean Alesi took fifth place to score for the second time in his first five races, and Martin Brundle picked up the last point, Brabham’s first since Monaco. The Minardis of Martini and Sala were a very respectable 7th and 8th, with Arnoux in 9th the last runner.
So Prost, Berger and Boutsen took to the podium alongside Ron Dennis, happy to have secured the Constructors’ title once again. With the delirious Italian fans shouting “Coppa! Coppa!” at Prost, he generously leaned over the railing and dropped the trophy to the waiting hordes, who promptly tore it into pieces, each presumably to become a holy relic. Dennis, with a face like thunder, threw his Constructors’ trophy at Prost’s feet and walked off – he always made a point of keeping all his drivers’ trophies in the McLaren trophy cabinet rather than allowing the drivers to keep them themselves, and under the circumstances felt this was a deliberate slight by Prost, who in turn claimed he’d simply been carried away by the moment.
Nonetheless, the gap had widened again, and despite Prost darkly muttering about things that might conspire to keep him from his third title, he was back in the box seat with four races left; but would the infamous “best 11” rule work against him again?
|=||Andrea de Cesaris||4|
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.