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1989 Formula One season

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Start date  1989
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Similar  1990 Formula One seas, 1988 Formula One seas, 1987 Formula One seas, 1991 Formula One seas, 1986 Formula One seas

The 1989 Formula One season was the 40th season of FIA Formula One motor racing. It featured the 1989 FIA Formula One World Championship, which commenced on 26 March 1989 and ended on 5 November after sixteen races. Alain Prost won his third Drivers' World Championship, and McLaren won the Constructors' Championship.


The championship was decided under controversial circumstances as Prost and team mate Ayrton Senna collided at low speed in the final chicane during the Japanese Grand Prix. Prost stalled and retired, whilst Senna got pushed back onto the track by the marshals, only to be disqualified after taking the race win for not taking the track correctly whilst being pushed back. This handed Prost his third world title and his last at McLaren, leaving the team at the end of the season.

Drivers and constructors

The following teams and drivers competed in the 1989 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Team and driver changes

  • McLaren-Honda, who had dominated the field in 1988, winning all but one race, stuck to their successful driver lineup of 1985 and 1986 World Champion Alain Prost and defending World Champion Ayrton Senna. They would drive the new MP4/5 powered by a Honda V10 engine.
  • Ferrari were optimistic of being able to challenge for the title. As well as their first 12-cylinder engine since the 1980 season, Ferrari boasted one of the sleekest and most advanced designs. John Barnard's first design for Ferrari, the 640 was innovative, with a nose section unlike any other car. The car also featured a semi-automatic electronic gearbox, the first of its kind. Ferrari also completed the signing of British driver Nigel Mansell to replace Michele Alboreto to partner Austrian Gerhard Berger, the only non-McLaren driver to claim a pole position and win in 1988.
  • Williams replaced the departing Mansell with Belgian Thierry Boutsen alongside veteran Italian Riccardo Patrese. The Judd V8 from 1988 was replaced by new engine supplier Renault, with the hope that the new V10 engines would make the team much more competitive than they were in 1988. For most of the season Williams were forced to run with the FW12C, an updated version of their 1988 car until the new FW13 was introduced at the Portuguese Grand Prix
  • Lotus kept their 1988 lineup, with triple champion Nelson Piquet alongside Satoru Nakajima, but lost engine supplier Honda. The new Lotus 101 designed by Frank Dernie would use the Judd V8 engine instead.
  • Benetton retained Alessandro Nannini and replaced Thierry Boutsen with British rookie Johnny Herbert who was eventually replaced by McLaren test driver Emanuele Pirro (Herbert had not fully healed from his 1988 Formula 3000 crash at Brands Hatch and needed more recovery time). The team continued its contract as Ford's official team but had to make do with the 1988 engine until almost halfway through the season due to the 1989 car not being ready.
  • Tyrrell retained Jonathan Palmer, but signed Michele Alboreto to replace Julian Bailey. After a sponsorship dispute Alboreto was replaced by both Jean Alesi and Johnny Herbert.
  • The famous old Brabham team had missed 1988, and after a late season change of ownership, and the new team, running Judd V8 engines and piloted by Stefano Modena and reigning World Sportscar Champion Martin Brundle who was returning full time to F1, debuted in Brazil. For missing the 1988 season Brabham had to pre-qualify for at least the first half of the season.
  • The French Larrousse team continued running Lola chassis, but ditched the Ford-Cosworth DFY V8 in favor of the Mauro Forghieri designed Lamborghini V12 engine. The team started the year with its 1988 lineup of Yannick Dalmas and Philippe Alliot, though Dalmas was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease in late 1988 and was eventually replaced by Éric Bernard, who was in turn replaced by Michele Alboreto.
  • In the event, the only entirely new team for 1989 was Onyx Grand Prix, running Ford DFR engines and driven by the experienced Swede Stefan Johansson and Belgian rookie Bertrand Gachot who would eventually be replaced by Finnish rookie J. J. Lehto.
  • Zakspeed, who had always produced their own engines in F1, were forced to change engines and gained exclusive use of the new Yamaha V8 engine. The new Zakspeed 891 was driven by 1988 team driver, Bernd Schneider of West Germany and Japanese driver Aguri Suzuki, both of whom were forced to pre-qualify.
  • Osella fronted with a new car for 1988 driver Nicola Larini, who was joined in the team by Italian veteran Piercarlo Ghinzani in his return to the team. Gone was the antiquated Alfa Romeo "Osella V8" turbo, replaced by the Cosworth DFR V8.
  • Ligier retained French veteran René Arnoux, but replaced Stefan Johansson with young French F3000 driver Olivier Grouillard. The new car also used the Cosworth DFR engine in place of 1988s Judd V8.
  • AGS had retained Philippe Streiff for 1989, but the Frenchman was horrifically injured while testing prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix. The crash left Streiff as a quadriplegic and his racing career was over. He was replaced in the following race by Gabriele Tarquini, who had planned to drive for the team FIRST that year, until they had pulled out.
  • Technical and rules changes

  • Turbocharged engines had been banned at the end of 1988, as they were felt to be making the sport dangerous and expensive.
  • In response to the above, a number of new teams were expected to enter the series, and there would be 39 drivers now competing for 26 places on the starting grid. To reduce the number of cars down to 30 in order to render Qualifying itself manageable, a separate 1-hour Pre-Qualifying Session was held at Friday morning during every GP weekend. 13 cars from teams with lowest results from previous 2 half-seasons were forced to pre-qualify, and only 4 fastest cars would advance to Qualifying proper. At the halfway point of the season the group of teams required to pre-qualify during the first half would be revised, based on the results during last 2 half-seasons.
  • At the start of the season, some new (Onyx) and returning (Brabham) teams had to pre-qualify, along with two Osellas and Zakspeeds and single EuroBrun. Four teams who had run single car in 1988 had to run one car in pre-qualifying at the beginning: Dallara, Coloni, Rial and AGS.
  • At the halfway of the season, Alex Caffi in the 2nd Dallara, both Brabhams and Volker Weidler in the Rial (although he had never got out of pre-qualifying in the 1st half of the season and was soon replaced during the 2nd half of the Season by Pierre-Henri Raphanel) moved up, whilst Gabriele Tarquini's AGS (although he had scored a point for his team), both Larrousse Cars and Roberto Moreno's Coloni, which had only qualified three times and never finished a Grand Prix in the 1st half of 1989, were demoted.
  • Another new regulation decreed by FISA was that, in the interest of safety, the driver's feet must be situated behind the front axle-line. Designers, not thinking of the driver's comfort, simply designed smaller and more cramped cockpits.The problem was first highlighted at the first round, the Brazilian Grand Prix, with focus on the Ross Brawn designed Arrows cars. Both drivers, Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever, suffered severe cramping and felt the new regulations were in fact making it more dangerous, with Cheever saying that "if (he) got sideways ... (he) simply cannot correct with the steering wheel" due to his lanky frame.
  • Race 1: Brazil

    The climate as the Formula One circus arrived at Jacarepaguá was one of much optimism in what many saw as a new age, with many revelling in the brutal and much more appealing sounds of the V10 and V12 engines. Brazil proved to be an excitement filled race, and dramatic too. Qualifying had a few surprises, with Riccardo Patrese, scoring his first front row start since 1983, next to the home favourite, world champion Ayrton Senna. Williams and Renault were both surprised by the position, but both highly pleased with Thierry Boutsen qualifying fourth alongside the high powered Ferrari of Berger and in front of Prost who could only manage 5th.

    The race started with a bang, as Senna's hopes at a home Grand Prix victory were dashed after a clash with Berger in the first turn. In what would prove to be a regular occurrence during the season, the semi-automatic transmission in the Ferrari 640 allowed Berger to get a lightning start from 3rd on the grid and he attempted to go inside of Senna and Patrese into the turn. Patrese got through unscathed and in the lead of his record breaking 177th Grand Prix start whilst Berger was out on the spot (the first of 10 straight retirements for the Austrian driver) while Senna was forced to pit for repairs and would finish the race 2 laps down in 11th place.

    Double world champion Alain Prost's McLaren had been having problems all weekend with the Frenchman finding the McLaren MP4/5 hard to set up, and when his two stop strategy was ruined by a clutch failure, he knew he had to continue the race having made just one of his scheduled two pit stops on the notoriously abrasive Rio circuit. He finished second. Nigel Mansell secured a surprising win for the Scuderia, with no problems despite ongoing gearbox faults all weekend and a lack of winter testing (Mansell also had the steering wheel come loose on the back straight and had to have it changed in his final stop, which luckily was scheduled for the end of that lap). The final step of the podium was taken by local Maurício Gugelmin. Grand Prix debutant Johnny Herbert, Derek Warwick and Alessandro Nannini scored the remaining points. Warwick was desperately unlucky. He lost over 20 seconds in a slow pit stop and only finished 17.8 seconds behind Mansell at the finish suggesting a win (which would have been both his and Arrows' first) or podium place had gone begging.

    This was to be the last race at this fast, flat and abrasive Jacarepaguá circuit in Rio de Janeiro. Formula One would move to a shortened Interlagos circuit in Senna's hometown of São Paulo for the 1990 season onwards.

    Race 2: San Marino

    At Imola in Italy, "normal service" was resumed. McLaren settled on the front row of the grid and stayed that way for the race, with Mansell's Ferrari retiring midway with gearbox issues. Gerhard Berger, despite showing promise by setting the fastest time in the wet Friday qualifying, suffered a brake problem and careened off the track at Tamburello at high speed, forcing the race to be stopped after the third lap. Berger miraculously survived with just a broken rib, shoulder bone and burns to his back and hands. He gave a thumbs up and the race was restarted not too long after. Senna went on to win with Prost second. Patrese's engine failed and Boutsen was disqualified (but he got his 4th position back in an appeal), so the third place was taken by the Benetton Ford of Alessandro Nannini.

    After the Grand Prix, Prost seemed disgruntled and said he wished to not make a comment on the race, other than that "orders were not respected". Senna refused to comment on the matter. Before the race at Monaco, Prost said he wanted "nothing to do with (Senna)" and refused to speak with him.

    Race 3: Monaco

    With Berger out, there were 29 cars in qualifying instead of 30, because Ferrari did not have a replacement driver. Senna had scored his third pole of the season, with the number 2 car of Prost again alongside. March introduced their new 1989 design. Senna went on to win by almost a whole minute over Prost while Stefano Modena secured a valuable third for the underfunded Brabham team on its return to Formula One after a year out. This result effectively allowed Brabham to avoid prequalifying in the second half of the season. Modena, however, failed to score any points in any other Grand Prix in 1989. Michele Alboreto secured his first points since leaving Ferrari for Tyrrell.

    During practice Prost revealed his discontent with Senna. According to Prost the pair had an agreement that if they were leading, whoever won the start would not be challenged by the other at the first corner, an agreement he previously had with former team mates Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg. Despite Marlboro's John Hogan supporting Prost's story by stating he was present when the agreement was made, Senna continued to deny that any such agreement existed. He also contended that the corner he passed Prost at, Tosa, was actually the third turn on the Imola circuit after Tamburello and Villeneuve.

    Race 4: Mexico

    At the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City, Mexico, Gerhard Berger made a return despite continued pain in his fingers. However, transmission and gearbox problems forced the Ferraris to retire from point-scoring positions for the third race straight. While they lamented their results, McLaren and Senna took a third win on the trot by a differing choice of tyres. Prost's choice, and the wrong set of tyres being given to him at a pit stop (which prompted team boss Ron Dennis to issue Prost a public apology after the race), sent him down the order to fifth. Patrese was second for Williams, while Alboreto doubled his efforts in Monaco by scoring third. Gabriele Tarquini was able to bring his barely pre-qualified AGS home in sixth for a well-celebrated point.

    Mexico was the first time that Prost would publicly complain that his Honda V10 did not seem to work as well as Senna's, pointing out that early in the race he was clearly faster than Senna through the Peraltada curve heading onto the long front straight, but that even with a tow from Senna he was not able to make any ground on him. Then later in the race when Senna was coming up to lap Prost (who had much fresher tyres), the Brazilian was easily able to catch and pass him on the straight despite being slower through the final turn (it was later revealed that Prost ran less wing than Senna which should have theoretically given him better straight line speed).

    Race 5: United States

    The United States Grand Prix had a new destination, this time in the hot desert city of Phoenix, Arizona. It was a new place, but the same old dirty and dusty street circuits, and while considerably wider, faster and less bumpy than both Detroit and Dallas, the mostly right angled turns gave the drivers few reference points for when to use their brakes. The dreadfully hot 100+ degree dry desert summer heat of Phoenix also made conditions trying; the track broke up during the race. Senna made the most of his skill and scored another pole, Prost again playing second fiddle by over a second. Prost though believed that his race set up was superior to his team mate's and was confident of winning his first Grand Prix of the year.

    Senna won the start and built up a small lead over Prost. Senna suffered an electrical problem when leading the race and his engine started to misfire. He signalled Prost through to a lead he would not lose on lap 34. Williams ended up being the only team to finish with both cars as the dirty track and unforgiving concrete walls ended six races, with the heat and dust cutting out many more. One driver, Alessandro Nannini, suffered from a severely sore neck after a crash in the morning warm-up and retired from fourth place on lap 10. Mansell and Berger suffered with the Ferrari V12s cutting out from identical alternator failures and both eventually retired. Patrese's second gave him third place in the championship, while Prost took the lead. Ecstatic Phoenix native Eddie Cheever celebrated his and his team's first podium of the season at his own home grand prix. The Brabhams, on the other hand, continued their lacklustre return, both drivers retiring with worn-out brakes. Dallara's Alex Caffi was the victim of a bizarre crash. Holding down 5th place, he was put into the wall on lap 52 by his own team mate Andrea de Cesaris when he was trying to lap him. The notorious de Cesaris later claimed he did not even know Caffi was there trying to lap him.

    The race of attrition saw Christian Danner score a surprise 4th place in his Rial. The race ran for the full 2 hours and was flagged after 75 of the scheduled 81 laps. Alain Prost scored his only ever win in the USA, while Cheever's 3rd place was his final podium in Formula One. Before the race with the heat and practice times proving some 10-15 seconds per lap slower than predicted, a petition was circulated among the teams requesting the race be reduced to 70 laps. All team managers signed the petition with the exception of Ken Tyrrell which meant the race was not officially shortened. Ironically, this would work against his team when Jonathan Palmer lost a certain 4th place after his Tyrrell-Ford ran out of fuel on lap 69. Had the race been flagged after 70 laps, Palmer would have finished 4th having already been lapped by Prost instead of running out of fuel and being classified as 9th and last.

    Race 6: Canada

    The Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal was run in wet conditions and provided many retirements, but also a new winner. Senna was comfortably leading with only three laps to go when engine problems forced him to retire, handing Boutsen his first victory. Patrese came home second to make it a 1–2 finish for Williams, the first time a team other than McLaren had achieved this since Ferrari in Monza the previous year. Making up for his Phoenix indiscretion, Andrea de Cesaris picked up third for Dallara, the first ever podium finish for the small Italian team.

    Triple World Champion Nelson Piquet picked up his and Lotus's first points of the year by finishing 4th, only 4.8 seconds behind de Cesaris.

    Race 7: France

    In his home race at the Paul Ricard circuit near Marseille, Prost took pole and won convincingly, while fellow Frenchman Jean Alesi made his debut for the Tyrrell team, replacing Alboreto due to the team now having Camel sponsorship which conflicted with his personal Marlboro sponsorship. This proved to pay off as Alesi secured a fourth-place finish (having run second at one stage). Nigel Mansell ended Ferrari's run of retirements with a secure second while Patrese was third. Swede Stefan Johansson finished 5th, scoring the Onyx team's first points, and Olivier Grouillard took the final points paying position. Senna, meanwhile, was forced to retire straight after the restart with a differential problem.

    The race had to be restarted when, on the first lap, Gugelmin caused a major first corner accident when he lost control of his March, flew into the air and landed on Mansell's rear wing. Luckily, no one was hurt and all drivers managed to take the restart. The French marshals were widely criticised for tipping the upside down March back on its wheels before Gugelmin had a chance to get out of the car.

    Race 8: Great Britain

    The British Grand Prix at the very fast Silverstone circuit proved much the same – McLaren front row, Senna retiring, and Prost winning. Mansell finished second in his home race to please the British fans, whose Mansellmania coupled with the tifosi made for hysteria. Nannini finished third, Piquet 4th, while both Minardis, Martini followed by Pérez-Sala, took the final 2 points positions.

    At this, the halfway point of the championship, Prost's lead over Senna had increased to 20 points; Britain was the 4th consecutive race Senna had retired from- and Prost had won 3 of those 4 races. Despite much talk, he downplayed the thought of a third championship. "I don't want to start talking about the championship, getting into all that," he said, "but I'm much happier now, yes. Motivated again. I've had no engine problems since Mexico, which is nice, and also I'm pleased to see Ferrari getting more competitive: both Nigel and Gerhard can win races and that can only help me."

    Race 9: Germany

    At Hockenheim in Germany (another very fast circuit) however, Senna's bad luck ended after scoring a treble – pole, fastest lap and the win, but he had to fight almost all the way with Prost to do so. After both McLarens suffered bad mid-race stops for tyres, Prost emerged in the lead and looked to have the race in his grasp but lost top gear with less than two laps to go. Berger's pointless season continued with a tire puncture causing a spectacular accident and robbing him of a possible podium. Mansell picked up a third place and mused everyone's thoughts: "If any of the circuits in the world is ideal for McLaren-Honda, it's Hockenheim." Patrese, Piquet and Warwick took the remaining three points-paying positions, respectively.

    Race 10: Hungary

    The dirty Hungaroring near Budapest provided an almost gripless practice and qualifying, that eventually led to the first non-McLaren pole position of the year – Riccardo Patrese made a Senna-like performance with a 0.31 gap between him and Senna. Another surprise was the equally impressive Alex Caffi, who scored third with a time less than a second slower than that of Patrese – in a car that had been notoriously midfield. The Ferraris, however, suffered badly. Mansell was over two seconds off Patrese's time of an impressive 1:19.7, whilst Berger constantly complained of gear shift troubles – even asking the team to change the gearbox pre-race, which they didn't.

    This eventually cost him a point scoring position, as the gearbox went on to fail. Countering this was Mansell's impressive 12th-to-first race, even overtaking Senna in the area he excelled most, lapping back markers – an impressive move on a track notorious for mediocre and unpassable races. He went on to compare the race to his win at Silverstone two years earlier and dedicated it to the late Enzo Ferrari, a year after the Old Man's death. Caffi's race was the exact counterpoint of Mansell's – despite a strong start he finished a lonely seventh, earning no points. Senna finished nearly half a minute behind Mansell in second, while Prost again suffered problems and finished fourth. Patrese retired from the lead and Boutsen finished third. The final two points positions were taken by American Eddie Cheever in the Arrows, finishing 5th, followed by Piquet in 6th.

    Race 11: Belgium

    A wet Spa showcased Senna's wet weather skills at their best. 'Magic' (Senna's nickname during the wet) shone that day to give him another win despite engine troubles that also befell Prost with Mansell in third saying that problems like that he could certainly use – he finished less than two seconds behind Senna. Boutsen, Nannini and Warwick, in that order, took the final three points-paying positions.

    Race 12: Italy

    The Italian Grand Prix at the Monza Autodrome near Milan sealed the end of two things: Gerhard Berger's terrible season (he scored a second place on both the grid and in the race) and Prost's relationship with McLaren. Having become progressively distanced from the team due to his conflict with Senna, he announced his switch to Ferrari for 1990, and after inheriting the race win when Senna retired from the lead late on, he proceeded to give the trophy he had won to the tifosi. McLaren boss Ron Dennis' usual composure was shattered and he hurled his trophy at his driver's feet, storming off (Dennis was unhappy with Prost giving the trophy to the tifosi as contractually all trophies won were the property of the team). Prost later said it was an unsatisfactory win and that he did not hold out much hope for the championship despite his points lead as he felt Honda were clearly favouring Senna. Boutsen inherited third for Williams. The final points went to Patrese, who finished fourth, followed by Brit Martin Brundle for Brabham and Jean Alesi in the Tyrrell.

    Race 13: Portugal

    The World Championship was virtually decided in the thirteenth round at Estoril near Lisbon, as Prost finished second to Berger and Senna retired in controversial circumstances when he collided with Mansell, who had illegally reversed in the pit-lane and ignored the resultant black disqualification flags. Mansell was subsequently banned from the next race.

    This was Prost's twelfth points finish of the season, which meant that he now had to drop points as only the eleven best points finishes counted, but he still led by 24 points with three races left.

    Johansson finished a fine third for the struggling Onyx team (a result that meant they did not have to go through pre-qualifying in the first half of 1990), marveling at the car's performance on a low-grip track and speaking of optimism for Spain. Nannini finished in fourth, while Pierluigi Martini qualified fifth and finished in that position, also leading for one lap; the only time in the Minardi team's 21-year history that it led a Grand Prix. Tyrrell racing finished in sixth for the 2nd consecutive race, although it was Jonathan Palmer that earned the point for them in Portugal. The new Williamses, however, suffered near-simultaneous and identical motor blow-outs. Up until then they looked promising.

    Race 14: Spain

    Senna kept the Championship alive in Spain by taking pole position and leading throughout, beating Berger by almost half a minute at the Jerez circuit near Seville. Prost drove a cautious race and finished third, dropping more points, but it meant that Senna had to win both remaining races to have any chance of beating the Frenchman to the title. Meanwhile, Alesi scored another strong fourth place for the Tyrrell team.

    Race 15: Japan

    Then the Formula One circus arrived at Suzuka, Japan near Nagoya for the now infamous penultimate round for the championship. Prost said he would not leave the door open for his teammate, who he felt had made far too many risky moves on him.

    Senna took pole, but Prost beat him away from the grid and led by 1.4 seconds by the end of the first lap. By lap 15, however, Senna was all over the back of Prost's McLaren after moving through both Williams and Benettons. He whittled down Prost's 5 second lead to just under a second by lap 30, but the latter pulled a few seconds ahead by the 35th lap. By the end of lap 46, with 7 to go, the gap was just over a second. Senna, further back than he had been earlier in the race, made a move on Prost in the chicane before the start-finish straight. True to his word, Prost closed the gap and the two skidded into the escape road and both engines stalled. Prost jumped from his car. Senna, however, got a push from the marshals and returned to the track.

    After pitting for repairs, Senna worked his way past both Williams and the Benettons to take a three-second victory. However, his altercation with Prost seven laps earlier meant he had missed the chicane and, according to FIA and FISA president Jean Marie Balestre, had not completed the lap. It is worth noting that many drivers in previous races had used the escape roads near chicanes after on-track incidents, as is customary, without receiving penalties. He was disqualified and Nannini revelled in his first grand prix victory. The new Williams FW13s finished second and third, putting them five points ahead of the Ferrari team in the race for second.

    McLaren went to appeal the decision. With the matter hanging in the air, Senna went on record saying it was a plot and conspiracy against him by FIA and FISA president Jean Marie Balestre who he said favored Alain Prost. Senna would comment again on the matter after sealing his 1991 championship, reiterating his belief that he had been unfairly treated.

    Race 16: Australia

    The final round at Adelaide saw the race run under heavy rain. Prost elected to withdraw at the end of the first lap in such torrentially wet conditions and would score no points. Senna, who considered quitting in protest of his disqualification in the previous race, was convinced to race by friends and team members. Starting from pole, by lap ten he had over 30 seconds to the Williams pair and counting. Instead of relaxing, he continued to push in poor visibility. On lap 13, he ran into the rear of Brundle's Brabham and was out of the race. The two Williams Renaults scored a double podium finish with Boutsen winning, despite being a strong proponent of not starting in such conditions.

    The Australian Grand Prix was overshadowed by the ongoing controversy surrounding the Japanese race, but once the appeals had been considered, Prost was crowned the champion for the third time.

    World Drivers' Championship final standings

    Drivers did not finish the Grand Prix, but were classified as they completed over 90% of the race distance.

    Championship points were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis for the first six places in each race. Only the best eleven results for each driver were retained.

    World Constructors' Championship final standings

    Championship points were awarded on a 9–6–4–3–2–1 basis for the first six places in each race.


    1989 Formula One season Wikipedia

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