Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez
24 June 1990
While the Formula One circus moved south from Canada to Mexico, the eyes of much of the world were still trained on Europe, where the football World Cup was underway in Italy. The first of the knockout stages was beginning this weekend, with particular interest in the paddock being paid to the Brazil-Argentina clash in Turin taking place on race day, with Italy taking on Uruguay and England (having just scraped through the group stage) facing surprise package Cameroon. Football fans or not, the drivers and teams’ thoughts would be fixed on Mexico (whose team had been excluded after fielding ineligible players during the 1988 Olympics). Senna in particular had reason to celebrate – this would be his 100th Grand Prix start.
With no lineup changes, Pre-Qualifying took place with the usual four going through to the main session – today the order was Grouillard-Bernard-Moreno-Suzuki – with the AGSes just off the pace following the departure of technical director Hugues de Chaunac, with Claudio Langes putting up a token couple of laps for EuroBrun to comply with the rules (he had actually been sacked just before the Canadian race, only to be recalled to fulfil their requirement to field two cars). The farce that was Life Racing continued, with Bruno Giacomelli not even getting a single lap in before his engine blew.
As in Canada, the weather played a part in Qualifying, with a wet Saturday morning session seeing both Larrousse drivers have big offs. It was the usual McLaren pole, but Gerhard Berger instead of Senna. In fact the Brazilian was down in third place for his 100th Grand Prix, behind Riccardo Patrese. In fourth was Mansell after a fantastic effort. Boutsen and Alesi took up row 3, with Martini and Piquet on row 4. And Prost? After being unable to get his qualifying setup working, he decided to spend the rest of qualifying working on his race setup and could only manage 13th. Missing out on race day would be Roberto Moreno – disqualified for receiving a push start in Saturday’s qualifying session – along with Alex Caffi and both Leyton House cars amid rumours that designer Adrian Newey would be on his way sooner rather than later.
Sunday was sunny with clear skies and the drivers and teams knew that tyre choice would be vital – the abrasive, bumpy surface more suited to the harder “B” compound but the softer “C” offering more grip in the twisting infield section. In the event, the majority of the leading teams opted for the Cs, with Williams alone opting for Bs and Lotus mixing the two with Bs on the left side which got more wear. When the lights went green it was Riccardo Patrese who leaped into the lead with Berger dropping to third (perhaps being more circumspect with the start than usual) behind Senna. However, on harder tyres and without the extra horses of the Honda engine, by the time he came around to start lap two, he had Senna right alongside and he was soon past and Berger along with him. Behind Patrese was Boutsen, then Piquet and Alesi, with Mansell having dropped back to 7th.
Predictably enough, the McLarens immediately started pulling out a lead but behind them it was tremendous racing as Prost and Nannini both began to make their way up through the field and Piquet got past Patrese for third on lap 5. On lap 11, Emanuele Pirro became the first retirement, with engine failure, then on lap 12 there were three more: David Brabham went out with electrical problems and the two Japanese drivers, Suzuki and Nakajima, collided. That same lap, Berger (now some ten seconds behind Senna) came in for tyres, hoping to get his stop out of the way early and give himself an advantage later. He rejoined in 12th place, just as Eric Bernard completed Larrousse’s bad afternoon by retiring with brake failure.
Senna now led Piquet, Boutsen, Patrese, Mansell and Prost, with Nannini seventh. The Ferraris were going really well, particularly Prost, and now they began to put pressure on the Williamses ahead of them. Setting a series of fastest laps, Mansell reeled in Patrese, then Boutsen to go third by lap 32 with Prost still close behind in fourth place and Nannini had also made his way up into the points in sixth as Patrese struggled with his tyres. on lap 35 – around half distance – Mansell overtook his old rival Nelson Piquet for second place and Prost was not far behind, getting past on lap 41 as Piquet struggled on rapidly-wearing tyres and the Ferrari was running better and better with Prost putting up a series of fastest laps. Could the Ferraris even overhaul Senna and take the lead? The Brazilian was some distance ahead, but the scarlet cars were going great guns and nobody wanted to bet against them here.
While Mansell and Prost were slowly gaining on Senna, Berger was charging back up the field, now on the same combination of B and C compound tyres which Lotus had begun the race on. Up to 8th, he had Alesi between him and the points, and the nimble Tyrrell was struggling for pace on the long straights. On lap 46, Piquet came in for tyres, rejoining behind Berger and shuffling everyone up a place: Senna led Mansell, Prost, Boutsen, Nannini, Alesi and Berger. Slowly but surely Mansell and Prost chipped away at Senna’s lead, until on lap 54 Prost overtook his team-mate and set about reeling in his great rival. The laps ticked down and so did Senna’s lead, and commentators began to wonder aloud if there was something wrong with the McLaren. On lap 61, Prost was with Senna, and – almost anticlimactically – past and into the lead. The following lap, Mansell followed suit and it seemed certain that there was something amiss indeed with the McLaren. Two laps later we found out what as the slow puncture he’d been struggling with finally burts, leaving his right-rear tyre in shreds. Ron Dennis admitted he’d gambled in keeping Senna out in the hope of hanging on for third or fourth rather than bringing him in and dropping him right back.
So there were two Ferraris at the front for the first time since that famous win in Monza 1988, but closing at a rate of knots was Gerhard Berger, who had put up several fastest laps on his way to third and now had his old team-mate Mansell in his sights. Nigel had had a spin which he’d recovered from easily enough but lost time and with time running out, Berger passed him with a banzai manoeuvre on lap 67 of 69. Nigel was having none of it though, and stuck with Berger, staying in his slipstream until he moved out and pulled off a simply sensational move, going around the outside at the notorious high-speed Peraltada corner which ended the lap.
Alain Prost thus took his 41st career win and became the first multiple winner in Mexico since Jim Clark won three non-championship races, with Mansell second to complete a great weekend for the Scuderia after so many recent problems. Berger’s fine drive netted him third, with the Benettons of Nannini and Piquet fourth and sixth, sandwiching Boutsen’s Williams. Ferrari managed to take a chunk out of McLaren’s substantial Constructors’ Championship lead into the bargain.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.