12 August 1990
Like Germany, Hungary had seen a lot of change in the 12 months since the last race in the summer of 1989. Then, a sense of revolution had been in the air as the border with neutral Austria was opened and thousands of East Germans poured through en route to the West. In October, the Hungarian Communist Party reinvented itself as the Hungarian Socialist Party and called free elections for March. The teams arrived in a Budapest full of all the attractions of previous years, but also with a spring in its step and such luxuries as bananas on sale. So there was a sense of relief when Bernie Ecclestone announced the renewal of the race’s contract for a further 5 years.
As the teams arrived, there was one piece of news that had been coming for a while: Camel announced it would cease its sponsorship of the Lotus team at the end of the year, and had signed a 1991 deal with both Williams and Benetton (who also announced that they had re-signed Piquet and Nannini). Brabham’s nightmare season continued with the team reportedly locked out of its factory due to owing rent arrears. Pre-qualifying saw the Ligiers and AGSes get through to the main session. Qualifying is vital in Hungary, where passing is difficult, so there was a lot of pressure to get good grid places and for once McLaren were having trouble. The 1990 chassis still wasn’t quite working perfectly and both Senna and Berger had offs on Saturday meaning that for the first time this year there was no red and white car on the front row. Instead, Thierry Boutsen took his first-ever pole position, and alongside him sat Riccardo Patrese: the first all-Williams front row since the heady days of 1987. Berger and Senna lined up third and fourth, with Nigel Mansell fifth. Williams and Ferrari were both using new iterations of their engines and it was clear which had worked and which hadn’t. Alesi was sixth on a circuit he was expected to go well at, with Nannini, Prost, Piquet and de Cesaris filling out the top ten. At the blunt end, Caffi’s Arrows brought up the rear while the four non-qualifiers were Dalmas, David Brabham and the two Monteverdis. In fact, the now Swiss-based team were in deep trouble. JJ Lehto suffered from having had his differential installed backwards – again – while Foitek had a wishbone snap on him, pitching him into the gravel. It was the last straw, and he walked out of the team.
Sunday dawned bright but not overwhelmingly hot and the usual bumper crowd watched Prost go fastest in the morning warmup, leading pundits to wonder aloud if Ferrari might come good after all – especially given Mansell’s win from 12th last year. Still, as they lined up after lunch, the smart money was still on the Williams cars to bring home the points, assuming their cars kept going. The other determining factor would be tyres: with high wear from constant cornering but the need for high grip too, the right compound and the right strategy would be key. Senna had to transfer to his spare car on the grid after his race car sprang a radiator leak, and his day got worse at the start as he was uncharacteristically sluggish off the line and dropped from fourth to sixth while Boutsen made the most of his pole and sprang into the lead, with Berger getting the drop on Patrese to go second. Mansell followed, with Senna behind – though he quickly lost fifth place to a charging Alesi, making the most of his nimble Tyrrell. Alain Prost, meanwhile, had had a dreadful start and lost three places to de Cesaris and the Benettons of Nannini and Piquet.
Given the relative performances so far of the Williams and McLaren cars, one might have expected Boutsen to have trouble keeping his former Benetton team-mate behind him, but the twisty circuit, the extra Renault power and the smoothness of the engine’s power-curve and Boutsen’s driving style all combined to keep the quiet Belgian at the front for lap after lap, while everyone jostled for position behind. It took Senna 21 laps to force his way past Alesi, and no sooner had he done so than he had to come in with a puncture and dropped back to tenth. By this time, Boutsen, Berger, Patrese and Mansell were off in a race of their own while Alesi had been holding everyone else up. Nannini, now promoted to sixth, got past Alesi and set off in pursuit of the leaders, with Prost following through – but not for long: a transmission failure sent the triple champion spinning out on lap 37. Just afterwards, Alesi himself was out, tripping over Martini’s Minardi as he tried to lap it. With those two out of the way, Senna was back on a charge and caught quickly up to the top five, which became a six-car train – great viewing for the fans!
Eventually, Berger decided to come in for fresh tyres to see if that would make a difference, dropping to sixth, while Mansell made an unsuccessful lunge at his old mate Patrese. In lifting to avoid contact, Il Leone ended up losing two places instead as Nannini and Senna barged through into third and fourth. With Patrese second, Boutsen started to pull away, leading some to speculate that he was deliberately helping his team-mate by holding the rest up, but soon enough he peeled into the pits, suggesting that it was just a tyre problem after all. So Nannini and Senna were now second and third and the Brazilian scented a win after all. On lap 64 – 13 to go – he tried to get past Nannini and made contact. The Benetton was catapulted into the gravel trap and out, but Senna continued unhindered and set off in pursuit of Boutsen. Mansell, now third, had Berger breathing down his neck, with the McLaren boys thinking even about a double-podium. On lap 72, Berger tried the same move Senna had but this time it didn’t work: both cars ended up in the kitty-litter. All of which left Piquet in third, some distance from second place, and the last five laps saw Senna put in blistering lap after blistering lap as he hunted Boutsen down.
But it wasn’t to be: Senna just couldn’t catch and pass Boutsen in time and the Belgian took his third race win – and his first that wasn’t inherited thanks to wet weather. Senna and Piquet took the lower steps of the podium with Patrese fourth, Warwick a very encouraging fifth to give the Lotus boys a lift and Bernard sixth in the Lola (just ahead of Donnelly in the second Lotus).
Nigel Mansell was justifiably fuming at his old Ferrari team-mate at having taken him out with just four laps to go, given his bad luck so far this year. Senna’s second place and Prost’s retirement increased the Brazilian’s lead in the championship to ten points, while Thierry Boutsen would look forward to a hero’s welcome at the next race at Spa-Francorchamps.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.