Adelaide Street Circuit
3 November 1990
With the championships controversially decided and a still-furious Alain Prost taking back his previous reconciliation with Senna, there was an atmosphere of rancour in the paddock as everyone weighed in on the “incident”. Former champion and BBC commentator James Hunt, who firmly believed that the incident was a pure racing accident, said Prost seemed to be suffering some sort of mental breakdown, while another former champion, Jackie Stewart, opined that Senna seemed to be involved in rather too many accidents given his evident skill – the unspoken implication being that he was reckless. Certainly when the traditional “end of term” group photo was taken (enhanced by the presence of former world champions James Hunt, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme and Juan Manuel Fangio) Prost was conspicuous by his absence, refusing to be photographed with Senna even among a group.
Both Senna and Prost would be out to prove a point, with Mansell freed from the obligation of supporting his team-mate’s challenge and wanting to go out on a high, Berger and Piquet vying for third place in the standings and the Austrian wanting to break his McLaren duck after a disappointing season – so even without the championships to fight for, there was promise for a good race. And this would after all be the 500th World Championship Grand Prix, just to add a little extra incentive.
Senna seemed to have the bit between his teeth; fastest in every session, he took pole position by over half a second with Berger second, Mansell third and Prost a disappointed fourth. Alesi and Patrese filled row 3 despite the Frenchman suffering from the flu, with the Benettons 7th and 8th. The four non-qualifiers were Gachot – some way back in the Coloni – Dalmas and both Arrows cars.
Having dominated every session so far (except race-day warmup when Prost had the advantage), it was inevitable that it would be Senna that led away and, with neither Ferrari managing to get past Berger, the freshly-minted double champion began to very quickly pull out a lead of 1.7s at the end of lap 1. Was Berger deliberately holding the Ferraris back to let Senna get away? It didn’t matter, because at Stag Corner on lap 2, the Austrian accidentally killed his engine – he got it going again, but not before Mansell was past into second. Prost, meanwhile, was in all sorts of trouble trying to fight off a lively Piquet who had already got ahead of Alesi and Patrese and was ahead of Prost too by lap 3. Berger only lasted another three laps before he too succumbed to the Benetton driver who set off in pursuit of Mansell. The Briton, in turn, was charging after Senna, determined to end his Ferrari tenure with a win and gaining ground – the McLaren team had been worried about their brakes before the race so Senna was husbanding his.
As Piquet gained on Mansell and Mansell gained on Senna, the Brazilian started to encounter backmarkers by lap 16. Even with his famed ability to carve through traffic, by lap 25 Mansell was right up with him. Senna responded, pulling out another couple of seconds and on lap 28, under pressure, Mansell got it all wrong and shot off up an escape road. He kept his engine running while he flung the Ferrari in a tyre-smoking spin and rejoined the track, now 16 seconds adrift and with his old sparring partner Nelson Piquet sitting squarely on his gearbox. Mansell, like most of the field, had planned on going non-stop but he’d now wrecked his tyres and was sliding around all over the track, which let Piquet get past before Mansell came in for new boots and rejoined fifth.
So now Senna held an impressive lead of some 20 seconds over Piquet, with Berger, Prost and Mansell in pursuit, and was pacing himself to crown his second championship with a win. Prost got past Berger when the Austrian got a corner a little wrong and bounced over the kerbs, but otherwise there wasn’t really much to worry the leader. Attention was instead fixed on Nigel Mansell, who in typical Mansell style wasn’t giving up just yet and had the hammer down as he chased the leaders. By lap 57 of 81 he was past Berger and chasing his team-mate while the crowd watched rapt as he broke the lap record on lap 61.
The next lap, Senna missed a gear going into Paddock and wound up in the barriers and out of the race. So with just under 20 laps to go, Nelson Piquet was leading by seven seconds from Alain Prost with Nigel Mansell bearing down on the pair of them and all three wanted this win badly. And Mansell seemed to want it most of all. He broke the lap record again on lap 70. And again on lap 71. Two laps later he swept past Prost into second and began to chase down Piquet. Eight laps, seven seconds. Could he do it? Piquet picked up the pace to compensate but overcooked it at Brewery on lap 77, slithering wide and allowing Mansell – courtesy of another lap record – to get right up behind him. For three laps the multicoloured Benetton and the scarlet Ferrari raced together with Mansell trying whatever he could to get by. On the very last lap, the pair were hurtling down the Jack Brabham straight – where Mansell had had his big blowout in 1986 – when they came across Stefano Modena’s Brabham, running 12th and last. The leaders split, hurtled one either side of a startled Modena, and dived into the corner together. This was Mansell’s last chance to get past and he almost made it, but Piquet kept his nerve to somehow brake even later and held the place to win his second successive race. Mansell and Prost joined him on the podium, with Berger fourth and the Williams boys trailing in fifth (Boutsen) and sixth (Patrese), with Roberto Moreno just missing out on a point.
The Australian Grand Prix had been a decent race with a cracking climax and Nelson Piquet’s win was a popular one with the fun-loving Brazilian thus securing third place in the championship race on a tie-break (having won 2 races to Berger’s none, and Benetton coming a solid third in the constructors’ race. Mansell’s second place was enough to lift him satisfyingly above Boutsen, who he’d be replacing next year.
|2||Alain Prost||71 (73)|
|3||Nelson Piquet||43 (44)|
* Top 11 finishes only are counted.