Rahul Sharma (Editor)

1989 French Grand Prix

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Date  9 July 1989
Course length  3.813 km (2.369 mi)
1989 French Grand Prix

Official name  LXXV Rhône-Poulenc Grand Prix de France
Location  Circuit Paul Ricard France
Course  Permanent racing facility
Distance  80 laps, 305.04 km (189.543 mi)

The 1989 French Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held at Paul Ricard on 9 July 1989.



The race saw four drivers replaced by drivers making their first Formula One start: Jean Alesi replaced Michele Alboreto at Tyrrell after a rumoured contract dispute (Alboreto was personally sponsored by Marlboro and team boss Ken Tyrrell had signed their rival Camel as the team's major sponsor. Ironically Alboreto lost his Marlboro backing soon after). Éric Bernard replaced Yannick Dalmas at Larrousse after it was discovered that Dalmas was still suffering the effects of Legionnaires' disease, and Lotus test driver Martin Donnelly (on the recommendation of Derek Warwick) replaced Warwick at Arrows for one race after Warwick injured his back in a Kart race.

Another new face was McLaren test driver Emanuele Pirro who replaced Johnny Herbert at Benetton after it was decided Herbert needed more recovery time from his leg and ankle injuries suffered at Brands Hatch in 1988 (Herbert and Benetton found that he still could not push hard on the brakes which meant early braking resulting in slower lap times). Pirro's appointment caused some unhappy faces among Benetton team management who allegedly had wanted a British driver to replace Herbert. They were overruled however by the team owners, the Italian Benetton Group who wanted an Italian driver. Pirro, who had been based in Japan to test for McLaren and be close to Honda as well as driving a BMW M3 touring car for the factory backed Schnitzer Motorsport in the German DTM series, was signed on short notice and despite having to catch an international flight and a sleepless few days, was reportedly just happy to be there. As a contracted McLaren test driver, Pirro needed permission to race for another Formula One Team, though McLaren boss Ron Dennis offered no objection to the move. Despite being allegedly unhappy, the Benetton team would become very impressed with Pirro's testing abilities as he helped sort out the new Benetton B189 which Alessandro Nannini debuted in France. Pirro continued to drive the older B188 until a second B189 was made available in Germany.

For the first time both Onyx cars qualified for a Grand Prix, Bertrand Gachot and Stefan Johansson dominating pre-qualifying before surprising many by qualifying 11th and 13th respectively. On the other hand, Brabham, who had generally dominated pre-qualifying, struggled on their Pirelli tyres at the abrasive Paul Ricard Circuit, as did all other Pirelli runners (Onyx used Goodyear's). Stefano Modena only just pre-qualified, while Martin Brundle failed to pre-qualify for the second race in a row. In an indication of Pirelli's struggles in France, only three cars using the Italian rubber made the race. The fast and experienced Andrea de Cesaris, who had finished third at the previous race in Canada, failed to qualify his Pirelli shod Dallara-Ford.

Dalmas' team mate Philippe Alliot had been sacked by the Larrousse team after the Canadian Grand Prix, but when the team couldn't find a replacement driver of experience to partner Bernard he was re-hired and kept his place for the rest of the season. Alliot, with a point to prove, responded by qualifying a career high 7th, only 1.3 seconds slower than pole man Alain Prost. Until that point it was a career best showing for Larrousse and its new for 1989 Lola LC89 chassis with its also new for 1989 Lamborghini V12 engine.

The race is most famous for the multiple collision involving Nigel Mansell, Maurício Gugelmin, Thierry Boutsen and other cars on the first lap, which resulted in a restart. There was actually a little noticed second accident at the first turn as René Arnoux used Jonathan Palmer's Tyrrell to retard the progress of his Ligier JS33, launching his front wheels in the air. All of the drivers involved took the restart; some in spare cars. Alain Prost won the race for McLaren-Honda, ahead of Nigel Mansell who started from the pit lane in a car set up for his team mate Gerhard Berger. Berger, who raced the team's spare car after believing there was a small oil leak in his race car (which Mansell used to finish 2nd), again fell foul of the Ferrari's transmission with clutch failure leading to his 6th retirement of the season, leaving him with no points yet scored. Jean Alesi became an instant star when he drove his Tyrrell to 4th place and scored points on his F1 debut (in his first drive of the Ford DFR powered 018 in Friday morning's practice, he had shocked all by posting the 7th best time, though he would ultimately qualify slower than the other 3 debutantes). Olivier Grouillard scored his only F1 point on home soil saving face for the French Ligier team, while experienced Swede Stefan Johansson scored the Onyx team's first points. Incredibly, Gugelmin, who after his start crash where he had very nearly landed helmet first, had calmly walked back to the March pit and got into the spare car, set his first fastest lap, although he was not classified at the finish. Twelve cars failed to finish the race, seven of them with engine failures.

One who failed to finish, or even restart, was World Champion Ayrton Senna, his McLaren's differential failed as the cars got away for the second start. Senna actually got away, but as he changed to second gear the diff broke and his car only traveled approximately 10 metres. It was the third Grand Prix in succession where Senna had retired due to mechanical failure and was the shortest Grand Prix of his illustrious career. Prost's second win for the season gave him an 11-point lead over Senna in the Drivers' Championship. The race was Alain Prost's fourth win on home soil after wins at Dijon in 1981 and Paul Ricard in 1983 for Renault, and 1988 for McLaren.

Championship standings after the race

  • Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
  • References

    1989 French Grand Prix Wikipedia