Pre-qualifying had been reorganised going into the second half of the season; no points in the first half of the season meant that the Larrousse team with their Lamborghini V12 engines joined the session, where Philippe Alliot was now partnered by Michele Alboreto who had left Tyrrell over a rumored sponsorship dispute before the French Grand Prix (Alboreto was personally sponsored by Marlboro and Ken Tyrrell had signed the rival Camel brand as the team's major sponsor. Ironically Marlboro ended their contract with Alboreto shortly after he left Tyrrell which allowed him to join the Camel backed Larrousse team). Roberto Moreno was also forced to pre-qualify in the second half of the season, thus joining his Coloni team mate Pierre-Henri Raphanel. Despite his sixth-place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix, this was not enough to prevent Gabriele Tarquini from having to pre-qualify his AGS, so the Italian now joined his new team mate Yannick Dalmas in the session. Stefano Modena's third place and team mate Martin Brundle's sixth-place finish at the Monaco Grand Prix resulted in the Brabham team no longer having to pre-qualify for the remainder of the season, while Alex Caffi's fourth place in the same race, as well as a sixth in Canada, meant the Italian would not have to pre-qualify his Dallara either. Volker Weidler also found himself free of pre-qualifying thanks to his Rial team mate Christian Danner's fourth-place finish at the United States Grand Prix, despite the fact he had never finished any of the pre-qualifying sessions beforehand in a position higher than seventh. In the pre-qualifying session itself, Alboreto beat Dalmas by mere 0.001 second for the last berth in the qualifying sessions.
As expected, the McLaren-Honda's of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost dominated qualifying on the ultra fast Hockenheim circuit, with Senna just under a second faster than Prost, who was himself was almost eight-tenths faster than the Ferrari 640 of Nigel Mansell.
McLaren weren't without their problems in qualifying though. During the Friday session Senna ran over a stone which put a sizeable hole in his cars under tray and the resulting damage would require a complete change of car, the problem being that the team only had three of the new transverse gearbox cars in Germany. As a precaution the teams secondary (test) crew, who were on their way to Imola for a week of testing with the new car, were instructed to stop in Dijon (France) in case the race team needed a replacement chassis. When Senna's car was deemed too badly damaged, the test crew made their way to Hockenheim and McLaren were back to having three full cars ready for use by Saturday's morning practice.
The race started with Senna on pole position and Prost alongside him. At the start, Gerhard Berger in the semi-automatic Ferrari made a tremendous start from fourth, passing both Senna, Prost and his team mate Mansell and led the entire field into the first corner with Senna, Prost and Mansell following in succession. At the start Philippe Alliot went off the track at the start in spectacular fashion as he was touched from behind by the Minardi of Pierluigi Martini and lost control of his Lola, spinning off into the grass. He was able to rejoin but his race only lasted 20 laps after his V12 Lamborghini developed an oil leak. His new team mate Michele Alboreto was forced out of his first race with Larrousse just past turn 1 on the second lap after the Lamborghini's electrics failed. Alboreto had qualified 26th and last, only 0.016 ahead of the Minardi of Luis Pérez-Sala.
Berger's lead was to last about a quarter of a lap as the power of the Honda V10 engines told. Senna had Berger before the first chicane, and Prost outbraked him at the Ostkurve. At the start of the second lap, it was Senna leading from Prost, Berger, Mansell, Thierry Boutsen, Alessandro Nannini, Emanuele Pirro, Riccardo Patrese, and Nelson Piquet.
The McLarens of Senna and Prost and the Ferraris of Mansell and Berger started to pull away from the field, with the Benetton-Fords of Pirro and Nannini, and the Williams-Renault of Patrese just barely clinging on (Boutsen retired on lap 5 after being punted off by Pirro at the Bremsschikane 2). On lap 14, Mansell had been hounding Berger for 2 laps, but Berger had a puncture right when approaching the first chicane, and he went up on the marker, launching his Ferrari in midair, landing on a grassy patch and went across the track, just barely avoiding Mansell and came to rest on the trackside grass.
Prost and Senna were on the limit the entire race and Prost hounded Senna for 16 laps, until he went in for his pit stop for tyres, which was a terribly slow one of 18 seconds, which put Mansell in second place and Senna even further away. The next lap, Mansell came into the pits for his tyre change and his pit stop was faster than Prost's but still a poor stop of 11 seconds, which dropped him down back to fourth behind, Senna, Pirro and Prost. Then Senna decided to take advantage of his huge lead and came into the pits for his tyre change, and his stop was even worse than Prost's, lasting 23 seconds. This dropped him down to second behind Prost and Pirro had come into the pits for a tyre change and dropped to fourth.
Pirro crashed into the styrofoam barriers at the stadium entrance and had to be taken to the hospital. With Mansell having problems with his Ferrari, Senna and Prost battled for the entire race, as both drivers were driving on the limit. They started trading off fastest laps and Prost held off Senna for almost the entire race- but on lap 43, Prost's gearbox malfunctioned, lost sixth gear and Senna passed him coming into the stadium. Prost limped around the track for the next 2 laps and Senna cruised around the track to grab his fourth victory of the season, followed by Prost second, Mansell third, Patrese fourth, Piquet fifth and Derek Warwick sixth.
In the post race press conference, Senna refused to speculate on whether he would have been able to pass Prost if the Frenchman hadn't lost top gear, instead stating that winning after suffering four straight DNFs was all he was concerned about. For his part, Prost was of the firm belief that he would have had no trouble holding on for the win had he not had a gearbox problem.Ayrton Senna 21 (1-19, 44-45), Alain Prost 24 (20-43)
Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.