Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
10 June 1990
Back across the Atlantic everyone went, though nobody minded the visit to Canada – always a good atmosphere and a circuit everyone enjoyed. Last year’s race had seen Thierry Boutsen take his maiden win in the rain, and the forecast suggested it might be wet again this year. With no changes to report – other than McLaren having finally got Gerhard Berger’s seat “90%” right for him – it was off to the Pre-Qualifying lottery on Friday morning, where Roberto Moreno managed to top the timings in the EuroBrun, nearly 19 seconds ahead of his team-mate Claudio Langes. Second was Grouillard in the sole Osella, and then the two Larrousse Lolas. Giacomelli managed to get seven laps out of the Life before its engine expired – a majority stakeholding in the struggling team has been bought out by an Italian conglomerate who are rumoured to be trying to buy Lotus’s old 1989 Judd engines.
With rain putting paid to Saturday’s session leaving just Friday’s times to decide the grid, it would be another all-McLaren front row with Senna pipping Berger to his 30th pole in 37 races by just 0.066s. Behind them were Prost and Nannini, with Piquet fifth – a good showing from the Benetton boys. Boutsen was sixth, Mansell and Alesi shared row four, and Patrese and Modena rounded out the top ten. Lotus had another encouraging session to line up 11th (Warwick) and 12th (Donnelly). Watching from the pitwall would be Roberto Moreno, Gugelmin (Capelli squeaked in in 24th), Barilla and Brabham, the latter two driving the circuit for the first time on Friday and unable to set a better time in Saturday’s rain.
Sunday dawned wet, but by the time of the race it had stopped and although the track was still wet, it was drying. Everybody was starting on wet tyres, but it was obvious that the decision on when to come in and change to slicks would be key – the choice made more interesting in that Pirelli (but not Goodyear) had an interim tyre, a grooved slick, available. Gerhard Berger got the best start – too good as it turned out; he moved a fraction of a second early, realised what he had done and lifted, just as the light went green and everyone else streamed away with Berger reacting fast enough to keep second behind Senna. Prost muffed his start and dropped back to sixth behind Nannini, Alesi and Piquet and by lap 4 had dropped behind Boutsen as well.
On lap 10, it was announced that Berger would be assessed a one-minute penalty at the end of the race, and the same lap Patrese was the first of the front runners to come in for slick tyres. Nannini caught and passed Berger for second, and as he did so Piquet moved up into third place past Alesi, whose wet tyres were rapidly going off on the drying track. Senna came in, leaving the Benettons first and second, but only briefly as everyone streamed in for tyres over the next few laps. Senna returned to the track just in front of Berger in second place, but moved over to allow Berger to pass. On lap 16, Nannini came in with a 16 second gap, but was stationary for a very long 13 seconds and emerged well behind. No sooner had he done so than he hit a stray groundhog out on the track and had to come back in for a new nose.
All of which left Berger ahead on the road and charging but effectively in 8th place, with Senna leading Prost, who was being challenged by 1989 winner Boutsen. Piquet was running fourth with Mansell fifth. On lap 20, Prost was balked by Larini, sticking doggedly to the dry line in his Ligier. Boutsen saw a chance and moved out, put his wheels on the wet bit and gracefully pirouetted into the side of Larini, taking both of them out and leaving Prost untouched. As Boutsen limped back to retire, Alesi spun at exactly the same spot and returned to the track, spreading gravel across the racing line.
Prost wasn’t free and clear yet though, because he now had Piquet behind and Mansell behind him, while working his way back up, Nannini hit a wet patch trying to pass Nakajima and slid backwards into a tyre wall and out of the race. Berger and Senna were up ahead on the track with plenty of traffic to keep them occupied. Alesi was in amongst this group, having dropped back after knocking off a front wing against de Cesaris, and emulated Nannini, hitting that same wet patch, shooting off backwards and ending up sitting on top of both Benetton and tyre wall, thankfully unhurt.
Berger was now running fifth on time, and with Senna acting as rear-gunner (unbeknown to everyone outside the McLaren garage, Senna was missing first gear) he was charging hard to try and make up time to the Prost/Piquet/Mansell battle. He had already lapped everyone up to 7th place on the track and would only need to catch up to them, not pass them, to take the position on times. All this time the battle for second was raging away, with the three cars running nose-to-tail for lap after lap, often looking like Piquet might get past Prost but never quite making it.
On lap 45, Patrese, having just been lapped by the Prost train, pulled in to retire with fading brakes, then on lap 49 Piquet finally got the line on Prost and made a neat pass, only to pull immediately away. The reigning Champion’s brakes were starting to fade and soon Mansell was past as well and chasing his former team-mate for second place. Putting up a fastest lap (that was almost immediately beaten by Senna), Mansell was closing rapidly on the Benetton in the closing laps, almost losing the car on the marbles as he passed Alex Caffi, too wrapped up in his own race to see the Ferrari coming. Instead of catching Nannini, he was now having to defend himself from Prost again. Berger, meanwhile, was putting up lap record after lap record as he tried to make up time.
Berger took the chequered flag first, with Senna undoubtedly the winner – but where would Berger finish on times? Piquet came home second, Mansell third and Prost … fifth! Berger took fourth place, splitting the two Ferraris. In sixth place for his and the team’s first points this year was Derek Warwick, with the second Lotus of Donnelly just behind. The team had had a good if unspectacular race, with the smooth power profile of the Lamborghini engine an advantage in the conditions.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.