29 July 1990
Since the 1989 race, much had changed in Germany – the fall of the Berlin Wall in November had been just one in a series of dramatic events that had turned Europe on its head. With the borders open and the East and West German governments in talks about how to proceed and an agreement to an economic and customs union, many assumed that full reunification would follow. Meanwhile in F1 the rumour mill was already in full swing as various contenders for Mansell’s seat (Nannini? Alesi? Capelli? Modena?) were suggested and various dooms were prophesied for the underperforming Tyrrell and Lotus teams.
As in 1989, there was no German representation at the race, so the closest the locals got to a home hero was Austrian Gerherd Berger. First though, back to pre-qualifying with the Ligier team making their first appearance in the dreaded Friday morning session. They needn’t have worried: the blue cars sailed through easily enough with Grouillard and Dalmas progressing as usual. Main qualifying on this power circuit saw the McLarens absolutely dominant, with Senna taking pole by just 0.236 seconds, and Prost third a whole 1.5s behind. Mansell was fourth, then came the two Williams cars of Patrese and Boutsen. 7th and 9th were the Benettons (Piquet and Nannini), split by Alesi’s Tyrrell. Capelli was a promising 10th in the Leyton House. The four non-qualifiers were de Cesaris (for the first time in 1990), Barilla, Dalmas and Grouillard, meaning that both Monteverdi (“Onyx” now officially dropped) cars made it into the race: on the back row.
Predictably enough, the McLarens roared off into the lead at the start, with Prost and Mansell tucking in behind. Further back, Stefano Modena got a slow start and team-mate David Brabham swerved to avoid him, clipping Pirro’s front wheel and launching the Dallara backwards into the barriers. Pirro sat unmoving in the cockpit, and was still there, medics in attendance, when Senna & co came back round. Eventually, Pirro was extricated from the car complaining of back pain and sent off to hospital in a precautionary collar. Meanwhile, Phillippe Alliot, who had come to a halt avoiding Pirro’s bouncing wheel, had marshals first come up and unbuckle his seatbelts, then refasten them, give him a push and send him on his way.
All of which meant yellow flags while the mess was sorted out, with Senna, Berger, Prost and Mansell running together, with Boutsen, Patrese and the Benettons behind. When the green flags came out and racing resumed in earnest, Mansell commenced trying to get past Prost, while the four all drew away from Boutsen (who soon dropped back with a gear selection problem) and Patrese, who seemed to be holding Piquet and Nannini up. On lap 11, Piquet’s frustration led him to get out of shape one one of the chicanes trying to get past Patrese and he was passed by Nannini. Then, three laps later, Mansell’s ill luck struck again. On lap 14, as the first set of stops was approaching, he suddenly slithered approaching the Ostkurve, bounced across the kerbs, and limped back to the pits to retire. The reason? “I ran over something on the approach to the Ostkurve…” So that was six DNFs out of nine so far.
The first of the front-runners to come in for tyres was Berger on lap 16, rejoining behind the Benettons. Prost was next but he was severely held up with a sticking rear tyre nut and dropped back to seventh. So now Senna led Patrese, Nannini, Piquet and Berger, but the multicoloured Benettons were charging, making use of their new generation Ford engines to power past Patrese and then on lap 18, Senna came in to the pits. Could Nannini take the lead? Commentators and fans alike had one eye on the frantic McLaren pit crew and one eye on the track as Senna was released just as Nannini blasted across the line. Senna put his foot down and the pair were neck and neck as he emerged from the pitlane but with cooler tyres he had to give way and Nannini was past. And stayed there – even once his Goodyears warmed up, Senna just couldn’t make any inroads into Nannini’s lead. It was the same story behind, with Piquet easily keeping Berger behind him until he suffered a blown Ford V8 on lap 24.
In fact, Senna seemed to be backing off a little, the Honda engine struggling in the heat, while behind them, Berger now led Boutsen, who in turn had Prost right on his gearbox with Patrese following. Boutsen was in trouble, though, and Prost got past for fourth followed by Patrese. Boutsen went in for new tyres and dropped to ninth in the closing stages but did at least set the fastest lap – his first, and a lap record to boot – and make his way back up to sixth before the end. Prost could make no impression on Berger, though, as he had a badly set-up gearbox which wasn’t giving him enough top-end power.
Senna was not going to settle for second, though, and slowly began to reel in Nannini, who was not stopping and whose tyres were now beginning to go off. Over 16 laps he gradually closed and on lap 34 he slipstreamed past. There wasn’t much Nannini could do about it, and indeed Berger was now closing fast, and nearly made it. Senna took the win, and retook the championship lead, with Nannini second, but with another lap or so Berger could have taken the second spot. Prost came in fourth, with Patrese and Boutsen rounding out the points in their Williamses.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.