Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Interlagos
25 March 1990
The Interlagos circuit had hosted the Brazilian Grand Prix through the 1970s but by 1980 its very bumpy surface was unsuitable for ground-effect cars and there were also concerns about safety, leading to the near-cancellation of that year’s race and the subsequent move to Jacarepagua. Now, with the Interlagos circuit (renamed in 1985 after the Brazilian driver who died in a 1977 plane crash) resurfaced and redesigned, F1 returned. Perhaps symbolically, the race thus moved from Nelson Piquet’s Rio to Ayrton Senna’s home of São Paulo.
It wasn’t a particularly popular move, though. The Autódromo Nelson Piquet may have been rather flat and featureless, but Rio at least had the consolations of fine beaches, great restaurants and a party atmosphere to distract from the favelas and pollution. São Paulo was a depressing industrial sprawl, and to cap it all the country was in the midst of a huge economic crisis. A new currency, the Cruzeiro, was introduced, banks were closed, credit cards not accepted and the people were restless. Not that it seemed to dim their enthusiasm for Formula One. Ayrton Senna had now driven six Brazilian Grands Prix – five of them in competitive cars – but had never won, so his hometown fans packed in waiting to see their hero put the record straight.
Alex Caffi was back for Arrows, but otherwise the entry list was the same as in Phoenix. Pre-qualifying saw the Larrouse pairing of Bernard and Suzuki top of the list again, joined in qualifying proper by Grouillard’s Osella and Dalmas’ AGS. Gary Brabham failed to set a time when his W12 engine threw a conrod, with the Life team increasingly looking a complete shambles.
Ayrton Senna delighted the home fans by pulling out one of his trademark blistering qualifying laps to take pole from Berger in the dying minutes of Saturday’s session; row two saw the Williams cars of Bousen and Patrese and on row three were Mansell and Prost in the Ferraris. So far, so symmetrical. In seventh was Jean Alesi, best of the non-works teams, alongside Martini’s Minardi, with de Cesaris and Alliot making up the top ten. Both Benetton drivers were experiencing a lack of grip and could only manage 13th (Piquet) and 15th (Nannini), with the Lotus team afflicted with mechanical issues and starting 14th (Donnelly) and 24th (Warwick). All four pre-qualifiers made the grid, with the Onyx and Leyton House teams both missing the cut. Gianni Morbidelli, having missed out in Phoenix, would make his race-day debut in 16th.
Despite being back on the third row, several of the drivers including Thierry Boutsen opined that the Ferrari drivers would have an advantage in the race with their semi-automatic gearboxes enabling them to keep both hands on the wheel across the bumps and bends of the infield section. With the President of Brazil and governer of the South East region in attendance, the lights went green and the grid exploded into life. Senna got a perfect start to sweep into the lead followed by Berger and Boutsen, while further back at turn one there was a coming-together between Alesi, Nannini and de Cesaris, which sent the Dallara off into the gravel trap and bent the Benetton’s nose.
With the fans roaring every time Senna went past in the lead, the top six remained as it was with the home-town hero beginning to pull out a lead over his team-mate. In fact, Berger seemed to be having difficulties and on lap 8, Boutsen was past into second place. He was followed on la 17 by Prost and soon Mansell was closing too. However, the Englishman’s charge began to falter and on lap 27 he came in to the pits – but instead of a tyre change, the technicians seemed to be examining his car. His steering wheel was removed and looked at, then put back on again, and off he went. Gearbox problems? No, it transpired later that he had a cracked rollbar which was affecting the car’s handling.
With Mansell dropping to 9th as a result of his stop, Patrese was up to fifth and three laps later his team-mate Boutsen came in for the first scheduled tyre stop from second, promoting Prost. Unfortunately for Thierry, his brakes were already fading and he overshot, clobbering one of the waiting tyres with his front wing and being delayed while his nose was hurriedly replaced as well as the tyres. By the time he got back out he was 11th and had already been lapped.
Once all the pitstops had shaken out, Senna led Prost by about ten seconds. Patrese was third, Berger fourth, Piquet fifth and Alesi sixth, and the race seemed to have settled in for the afternoon with the cars too spread out for much racing. Senna was carving through the backmarkers when he came upon his old Lotus team-mate Nakajima, now in the Tyrrell. Naka moved over smartly, but in doing so put two wheels on the “marbles” (crumbly bits of rubber which tend to accumulate off the racing line) and slid into Senna as he passed, deranging the McLaren’s nosecone but with no ill-effects to his own Tyrrell. Nakajima an instant villain in Brazil (which was a bit harsh given how mortified he was), but in truth Senna could have easily held back a little longer. Anyway, in he came for a new nose-cone and rejoined in third place behind Prost and Berger. Meanwhile, Mansell was still climbing back up through the field, broken roll-bar or no, and took 6th on lap 37, then chased down his old rival Piquet for fifth which he took two laps later. Patrese came in for tyres on lap 39 and elevated him to fourth, but on fresh rubber the Italian was soon back past and consolidated his third place.
Boutsen was likewise coming up well after his disastrous stop and was soon fifth, but with Senna in a fairly stable third place, especially once Patrese retired with a lack of oil pressure on lap 66, the crowd’s attention shifted in the final stages to a terrific chase for the final points position as Piquet, who had stopped for new Goodyears, bore down on Alesi who was husbanding his fading Pirellis on a non-stop strategy. Nelson had rejoined in 11th place on lap 49 and had sliced back up to seventh and was now catching the Tyrrell at a rate of knots – but the laps were ticking off. To the cheers of the crowd, he was up with Alesi on lap 68 and past a lap later, just three laps before the end, to take the last point and add a reputed $100,000 to his invoice for the team.
So Alain Prost won comfortably in the end, with Berger second and Senna third, with Mansell, Boutsen and Piquet picking up the other points: Ferrari had had a nightmare in Phoenix and had bounced straight back. Berger, still suffering from a cockpit tub that was just too small for his lanky frame and with cramp in his braking foot as well, had done well to keep going and finish second.
This was Ferrari’s 100th Grand Prix win and Prost’s first for the team, and the indications looked good for a competitive season.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.