The 1990 Australian Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on 4 November 1990 at Adelaide. This was the 500th race to contribute to the World Drivers' Championship. The race was the 55th Australian Grand Prix and the sixth to be held on the Adelaide street circuit, which also made it the sixth AGP to be part of the Formula One World Championship. The race was held over 81 laps of the 3.78 km circuit for a race distance of 306 kilometres.
Ayrton Senna claimed his 52nd pole position with a 1:15.671, the fastest time recorded on the Adelaide street circuit to date. Second on the grid was his McLaren-Honda team mate Gerhard Berger who was over half a second slower. Filling out the second row were the Ferraris of Nigel Mansell, in his last race for the Maranello based team, and Prost, who was only 0.013 slower than Mansell. Despite brake problems with his Tyrrell-Ford, Jean Alesi qualified 5th in front of the Williams-Renault of Riccardo Patrese. During the final qualifying session it was reported by 1980 World Champion Alan Jones who was acting as pit reporter for race television broadcaster Channel 9 that Tyrrell team owner Ken Tyrrell believed Alesi's brake trouble to be more driver related rather than any fault with the car.
Japanese Grand Prix winner Nelson Piquet qualified his Benetton-Ford in 7th with team mate Roberto Moreno 8th and 1989 race winner Thierry Boutsen 9th in his Williams. Rounding out the top 10 qualifiers was Pierluigi Martini in his Pirelli shod Minardi-Ford.
Australian David Brabham, driving for Brabham, the team his triple World Championship winning father Jack had started in 1962, qualified for his first Australian Grand Prix in 25th position. Jack Brabham had won the non-championship Australian Grands Prix in 1955 (the first rear-engined car to do so), 1963 and 1964. David Brabham would be the first Australian to drive in his home Grand Prix since Alan Jones had his last F1 race in 1986.
Italians Michele Alboreto and Alex Caffi (both Arrows), Frenchman Yannick Dalmas (AGS) and Belgian Bertrand Gachot (Coloni) all failed to qualify.
As part of a television interview with Ayrton Senna after qualifying, former triple World Champion Jackie Stewart caused a stir when he claimed that Senna was part of too many race accidents for a driver of his ability compared to all the World Champions of the past. A visibly annoyed Senna stated he could not believe that someone of Stewart's racing experience, someone who knew first hand that accidents are a part of motor racing, would say that he was a dangerous driver, and challenged the Scotsman to go back and check his facts.
On race morning during the drivers briefing, McLaren boss Ron Dennis asked the officials for a ruling on what would happen if anyone decided to effectively straight-line the chicane after the start, asking if it was legal. FISA officials replied that any driver who did that would most likely damage their car so it was not advisable. At that point Alain Prost got up and walked out of the meeting, an action that earned him a 'yellow card' from FISA, but no fine. This puzzled many as walking out of the drivers briefing without good reason usually saw a driver fined.
Then, as per normal practice, the annual end-of-season drivers photo shoot took place prior to the race. As the race was the 500th World Championship Grand Prix there was also a photo shoot taken with several World Champions who were in attendance, including legendary five time Champion Juan Manuel Fangio. Alain Prost, still angry over the events at Suzuka, did not appear in either photo by his own choice as he did not want to appear with Ayrton Senna. This, and his public statements about his former McLaren team mate following the Japanese Grand Prix where he claimed Senna deliberately took him out at the first corner in the race to win the World Championship, lead to criticism of his mental state of mind by some including former World Champion turned BBC commentator James Hunt, who at the time believed the crash at Suzuka was just an accident and that Senna had not taken Prost out on purpose (Senna revealed at Suzuka a year later that he did indeed deliberately take Prost out as payback for their crash at Suzuka 1989 that gave Prost the world title over Senna). Hunt, who as the 1976 Champion was in the photo shoot along with Fangio, Sir Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme, Stewart, and current drivers Senna and Nelson Piquet, claimed during the race commentary that Prost had been mentally beaten down by Senna after losing the championship to him in controversial circumstances and seemed to be "a driver who was under a form of mental collapse".
Other than Prost who chose not to take part, World Championship winning drivers who were still alive but not in the photo shoot due to not being in attendance in Adelaide were Phil Hill (1961), John Surtees (1964), Emerson Fittipaldi (1972 & 1974), Niki Lauda (1975, 1977 & 1984), Mario Andretti (1978), Jody Scheckter (1979), and the winner of the inaugural race in Adelaide Keke Rosberg (1982). The most surprising absentee was Australia's 1980 World Champion Alan Jones who was actually at the circuit that weekend racing a Ford Sierra RS500 in the Group A touring car support races as well as performing duties as a pit reporter for Australian host television broadcaster Channel 9.
The race was won for the second race in a row, by Brazilian veteran Nelson Piquet in his Benetton, giving the triple World Champion back to back wins for the first time since he won the 1987 German and Hungarian Grands Prix while driving for Williams-Honda. He took a 3.129 second victory over Nigel Mansell after the Englishman had tried a passing move under braking for the hairpin at the end of the Brabham Straight which almost took out both cars, Mansell somehow managed to pull his Ferrari up in time to just miss Piquet and the lapped Brabham-Judd of Stefano Modena as they turned into the right hand hairpin.
After making the best start, but being blocked in by the slow starting Berger, Alain Prost drove a steady, but for him unremarkable race other than a rare mistake when he ran wide at Brewery Bend late in the race while trying to stay ahead of the charging Mansell. Prost ran in 5th for most of the race, but eventually finished 3rd after Senna crashed out of the lead on lap 61 with gearbox trouble, and after Berger had also run wide at Brewery Bend and had to back off to conserve his tyres. Berger finished 4th, 9.6 seconds behind Prost. Rounding out the top six were the Williamses of 1989 Australian Grand Prix winner Thierry Boutsen, the last driver on the lead lap and in his last race for Williams, and Riccardo Patrese.
On lap 50, Senna broke Gerhard Berger's 1987 lap record of 1:20.416 (set in the turbocharged Ferrari F1/87) with a time of 1:19.302. In his late race pursuit of Piquet, Mansell continued to lower the lap record and eventually lowered it to 1:18.203 on lap 75. In his efforts to stay ahead of Mansell, Piquet set his fastest race lap on lap 79 with a time of 1:18.527, and then emulated Prost and Berger's earlier feats by running wide at Brewery Bend on lap 80 which allowed Mansell to close within two seconds. Piquet's fastest lap, set on the tyres which he had started the race on, was also the second fastest lap of the race. In the post race interview with the top three finishers, Piquet said with a smile that after his lap 80 off which allowed Mansell to close up to him that he had to "drive like hell" over the last lap and a half, and that the "shit almost hit the fan", referring to Mansell's last-ditch overtaking move which almost took both cars out. After slower times in the 1988 race, and no chance to beat it in the wet in 1989, some 9 drivers (Mansell, Piquet, Prost, Senna, Moreno, Boutsen, Alesi, Patrese and Berger himself) would go faster than Berger's 1987 record with only Berger of that group failing to go under 1:20.000.
The victory allowed Piquet to claim third spot in the drivers championship in a countback after equalling the 43 points of Gerhard Berger (Piquet scored 2 wins compared to Berger who failed to win a race). It also allowed the Benetton team to secure third in the Constructors' Championship over Williams, equaling its best finish from 1988.
The race was Riccardo Patrese's 208th Grand Prix start in what was the 500th World Championship GP held. This meant that the Italian had driven in 41.6% of all Grands Prix held since the World Championship started in 1950. Patrese had started his F1 career with the Shadow team at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix.
Lap Leaders: Ayrton Senna 61 laps (1–61); Nelson Piquet 20 laps (62–81)Bold Text indicates World Champions.
Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.