The 1990 Japanese Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on 21 October 1990 at Suzuka. It was the fifteenth and penultimate round of the 1990 Formula One season. It was the 17th Japanese Grand Prix and the fourth to be held at Suzuka. The race was held over 53 laps of the six kilometre circuit for a race distance of 310 kilometres.
The race is best remembered for the first corner collision between World Championship rivals Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna and French driver Alain Prost, the second consecutive year the two had collided at this race with heavy championship repercussions. It immediately put both cars out of the race and secured for Senna his second World Championship. The race saw a best result to that point for the Benetton Formula team with their drivers, Brazilian veteran Nelson Piquet and his protégé Roberto Moreno finishing first and second in their Benetton B190s. It was back to back wins for Benetton in Japan after the team's win the previous year. Japanese driver Aguri Suzuki scored a career best result for himself and the Larrousse team, finishing third in his Lola LC90 in the only podium driver and team would achieve.
With Ferrari scoring no points after Nigel Mansell's retirement, the McLaren team secured their sixth and third consecutive constructor's championship.
As of 2016, this race marks the only time a Lamborghini powered car finished on the podium in Formula One.
There were many announcements prior to the race, Brabham announced they would use Yamaha engines for 1991, Footwork also announced a Porsche engine deal for 1991 and they also retained both drivers in Alex Caffi and Michele Alboreto. Prior to the race, the Life Racing Engines and EuroBrun teams withdrew from the sport. EuroBrun's Roberto Moreno joined the Benetton team replacing Alessandro Nannini, whose F1 career ended in a helicopter crash after the Spanish Grand Prix.
Alesi did not start due to a neck injury during Friday's practice. As his grid position was left empty, this was the third race in the running to have only 25 starters instead of the usual 26.
Nigel Mansell also announced a u-turn on his decision to retire by making public his agreement to join Williams-Renault for two years from 1991 after being given assurances from Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Renault that they could deliver him a car in which he could win a world championship. On Saturday Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda, met Ayrton Senna in the McLaren pit.
This race is best known for its first corner incident involving world championship contenders Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Senna secured the pole, but was unhappy with the side of the track it was situated on, claiming that pole should always be on the racing line. He and Gerhard Berger then went to the Japanese stewards, to request a change of position of pole to the cleaner left side of the track. The stewards initially agreed but an injunction by FISA president Jean Marie Balestre later that night rejected the decision and the original pole position remained on the dirtier, less grippy right side of the track. In addition, as revealed by F1 journalist, Maurice Hamilton, the FIA had warned that crossing the yellow line of the pit exit on the right to better position oneself at the first corner would have not been appropriate, further infuriating Senna.
Some in the F1 paddock found Senna's complaints as strange given that the pole was actually on the same side of the track as it had been since the first Japanese Grand Prix held there in 1987. Many also noted that Senna had not complained about the position of the pole in either 1988 or 1989, both races he had started on pole and both races he was fighting Prost for the World Championship.
After this, Senna vowed that if Prost (starting second) got the advantage into the first corner, which most were sure he would, Senna would attempt to take the lead into the first corner, regardless of the consequences. The two drivers made contact in the first corner, sending both drivers off the track. The crash meant that Senna had clinched the drivers' championship for a second time, as with one race left in the season, Prost could not overtake his points tally. Benetton-Ford's dominance of the podium prevented Ferrari from scoring enough points to stop McLaren clinching its sixth constructors' title.
The two discussed the event afterwards with Senna claiming it was not how he wanted it but how it had to be, with many others accepting his actions as a solution (or revenge, to an extent) to the incident the year before. Prost was infuriated by this and publicly slammed the move as "disgusting" and Senna as "a man without value". He later admitted that he almost retired from the sport instantly after the incident.
The pair went on to win one more championship each and eventually reconciled their differences in their final grand prix together.
After the collision, the race proceeded with Gerhard Berger's McLaren MP4/5B leading and Nigel Mansell's Ferrari 641 second. Berger spun off at the first corner on lap 2, on sand thrown onto the track by the Senna/Prost collision, leaving Mansell to lead the race from the two Benettons of Piquet and Moreno. Anticipating that Benetton would follow their usual strategy of not making a pit stop, Mansell built up a gap until he pitted for tyres at the end of lap 26. After a quick stop, he left his box with heavy wheelspin, and a driveshaft failed. The Ferrari pulled over at the end of the pit lane and retired. Piquet inherited the lead and retained it all the way to the chequered flag, with his team mate Moreno following closely. Aguri Suzuki also drove a non-stop race, finishing third, the first Japanese driver to do so. The two Williams FW13B-Renaults of Riccardo Patrese and Thierry Boutsen finished fourth and fifth, while Satoru Nakajima finished sixth in a Tyrrell 019, the second Japanese driver in the points.
As of March 2016, this was the last race where no European driver finished the race on the podium; two South American drivers and an Asian driver filled the three podium places for this race. It was also the only race where the Larrousse team scored a podium finish, during their eight seasons of competing in Formula One. It was also the first and only podium finish for the Lamborghini V12 engine in Formula One. Moreover, it was also the last of Brazil's eleven one-twos in Formula One, the only one featuring Piquet and Moreno - of the other ten, eight featured Piquet and Senna and the other two, Emerson Fittipaldi and José Carlos Pace.Lap Leaders: Gerhard Berger 1 lap (1); Nigel Mansell 25 laps (2–26); Nelson Piquet 27 laps (27–53)
Bold Text indicates World Champions.
Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.