Circuito Permanente de Jerez
30 September 1990
All was not well at Ferrari. Following Mansell’s disastrous start that scuppered his entire race, a dispirited Alain Prost now took aim at a “lack of management and strategy” at Maranello (for which read a personal attack on Cesare Fiorio) and hinted he might look for another team for 1991. Quite where was anyone’s guess, though, with Williams the only available top drive – it was widely expected that Mansell would announce he was driving for Williams in 1991 and when the team called a press conference, there was an excited buzz – but it was to announce that Riccardo Patrese had signed a new contract with them. So Prost to Williams was a possibility, however remote. Jerez is one of the mosst demanding circuits out there, with its constant turns demanding 100% concentration and wearing brakes, tyres and suspension, while even in late September it’s usually very hot indeed.
With Alex Caffi still suffering the after effects of his shunt in Portugal, Bernd Schneider returned to the Arrows team once again.
Pre-qualifying went as expected, with Giacomelli labouring round once or twice in the Life-Judd but failing to set a time, the EuroBruns achieving much the same and the AGSes, Grouillard and Gachot making it through. Then, on Friday afternoon, early in the session, disaster struck. On a hot lap, something broke on Martin Donnelly’s Lotus front suspension and he was pitched into the barriers at over 150 mph. The cameras weren’t watching the hit itself, so the first the teams and viewing public saw was a very still, limp Martin , still strapped into his seat, lying on the racetrack with pieces of yellow bodywork and internal workings all around. A collective sigh of relief went round as Dr Syd Watkins announced that he was still alive, albeit grievously injured. Once he was evacuated to hospital and while the cleanup was going on, Senna visited the scene of the accident and spent some time in contemplation, while Warwick and was similarly agonising about whether to compete or not, with Lotus leaving the call to him.
Eventually, the track opened again and, with a grim set to their faces, the teams went to work again. There was, after all, a championship to decide. Warwick decided to race and indeed put in a great lap to qualify tenth. Senna took an emotional 50th pole position by 0.4s from Prost, with Mansell third and a delighted Alesi fourth (and fastest in Saturday’s warm-up). Berger was fifth, with the Williamses of Patrese and Boutsen sixth and seventh and the Benettons 8th (Piquet) and 9th (Nannini). Gachot, Schneider, Brabham and Barilla all failed to qualify, meaning both AGS cars made it into the race
When the lights went green on Sunday afternoon, it was Senna who leaped into the lead, while further back Berger, keen to make up for a lacklustre qualifying, squeezed Alesi over, where he was clipped by Patrese and ended up in the gravel trap. Patrese had a bent front wing but Alesi was out, and fumed back to the pits. Meanwhile Senna was racing hard in the lead with Prost glued to his rear wing. Behind them were Mansell and Berger. And, with limited opportunities for passing, that’s where they stayed, waiting for tactical opportunities in the pits – most teams were planning to two-stop, so the first stops would be around lap 20. Which is exactly when Mansell came in – he was stationary for 8.6s and emerged in seventh, plagued by a sticking throttle. Berger was next a lap later, rejoining in sixth ahead of Mansell. And then on lap 25, Prost was the first of the championship contenders to come in. Would the Ferrari mechanics balls it up again? No they wouldn’t – 6.17s and out he went, returning to the track fourth, with Senna, Piquet and Mansell ahead. Two laps later it was Senna’s turn – in and out in 5.71s and rocketing out of the pit lane just as Mansell was moving over to make way for Prost. Even on cold tyres, Senna managed to jink around the Briton and took third place.
Nelson Piquet was now leading – the first time since Monza 1987 – and was running hard B compound tyres in an effort to run non-stop. However, any dreams he had of a form-book upset were gone when after just two laps he ran wide and let Prost and Senna both through. So it was as you were at the front, with the championship riding on the result: Prost needed to win to keep his title hopes alive and now being in the lead. And pulling away: the McLaren just wasn’t as handy as the Ferrari on the complex turns of the Jerez circuit and after a brief fight, Senna seemed to settle back and decide to accept second place and another entry on his “best eleven” list. But he couldn’t relax entirely, because Piquet and Mansell were still behind. On lap 42, Piquet pulled out with a battery problem but Mansell, sticking throttle and all, was still there, and now the McLaren appeared to be lightly smoking.
Senna, finding the handling problematic, came in for new tyres to see if that would help. It didn’t, and three laps later he retired – the smoke had in fact been steam from a punctured radiator spraying water on his right-rear tyre and eventually his engine
temperature spiked and that was that. So now Prost led Mansell, with Nannini third and Boutsen fourth. Berger, fifth after his second tyre stop, lunged at Boutsen on lap 56 and ended up in the
kitty litter to cap a dreadful day for McLaren. Prost took the win with Mansell second for a fine Ferrari 1-2 that perked up morale at Maranello no end. Nannini picked up a fine third place, the two Williams cars fourth and fifth and Aguri Suzuki took the final point in his Larrousse Lola. Just ten cars finished – Larini (Ligier), Gugelmin (Leyton House), Dalmas (AGS) and Alboreto (Arrows) – with Derek Warwick the last retirement, pulling out on lap 64 with a duff gearbox.
With just two races in Japan and Australia to go, the title race was still very much alive with Senna able to clinch his second championship with a win in either race, while Prost had to win both. And with just 18 points in the constructors race, that was wide open too.
Finally, on the Monday after the race, Mansell put everyone out of their misery and confirmed the least well-kept secret in F1: yes, he would be reversing his decision to retire and would partner Patrese at Williams in 1991.
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.