The 1990 United States Grand Prix was the opening motor race of the 1990 Formula One season held on March 11, 1990, in Phoenix, Arizona. It was the 32nd United States Grand Prix since the American Grand Prize was first held in 1908, and the 25th under Formula One regulations since the first United States Grand Prix was held at Riverside in 1958. It was the second to be held on the streets of Phoenix and ran over 72 laps of the 4 km-circuit.
The race was won by Brazilian Ayrton Senna, driving a McLaren MP4/5B by eight seconds over French driver Jean Alesi in his comparatively under-funded Tyrrell 018. Throughout the race, the pair enthralled fans with some fabulous and daring passing for the lead.
It was Alesi's first podium finish, with Belgian driver Thierry Boutsen in a Williams FW13B coming home third.
Swiss driver Gregor Foitek made his Formula One race debut for the Brabham team. He had attempted to qualify for races during the 1989 season, failing to make the grid in eleven qualifying attempts for Euro Brun and one for Rial.
Unexpected rain on Saturday meant that the grid was decided entirely by times from Friday's session. Pirelli's soft qualifying tires caught Goodyear off guard, and the Italian manufacturer put five of its teams in the top ten positions, including Jean Alesi, who was fourth in a Tyrrell. In a surprise move, team manager Ken Tyrrell had signed with Pirelli two days before the race, after 18 years with Goodyear. Gerhard Berger's pole-winning McLaren was the only car in the first two rows sporting Goodyears. Pierluigi Martini put Minardi on the front row for the only time in the team's history, less than seven-hundredths off Berger's pole time. In addition, Andrea de Cesaris (Scuderia Italia), Olivier Grouillard (Osella) and Roberto Moreno (EuroBrun) all scored what proved to be their team's best grid position of the year. Philippe Alliot was excluded when a mechanic worked on the car outside of the pit area during Friday's practice.
Martin Donnelly did not take the dummy grid due to gearbox failure. (Some sources consider this a DNS.)
Race day was cool with a chance of rain. Berger quickly pulled ahead of Martini and moved over in front of him, but Alesi, whose F1 career had begun in his home country of France the previous summer, made an even quicker start, passed them both and outbraked Berger into the first corner. He immediately began pulling away, and led by 2.4 seconds after one lap.
Senna passed de Cesaris for third, and closed on Berger, who was giving up a half second a lap to Alesi. The Brazilian got by his team-mate when, on lap 9, Berger hit a bump under braking, backed into the tire wall and damaged his rear wing. He pitted for a new wing, and later recorded the fastest lap of the race, but eventually retired with a clutch problem.
When Berger spun, Senna was 8.2 seconds behind Alesi. Not knowing whether the Tyrrell's Pirelli tires would last, Senna was reluctant to push too hard early on. After 30 laps, Alesi remained in the lead, but on lap 34, Senna passed him on the inside. The Tyrrell held the outside line on the exit and retook the lead on the next turn. At the same point, one lap later, Senna took the lead again, and this time he held it.
After several attempts to regain the lead, Alesi decided to conserve his tires, and let Senna go. Meanwhile, Nelson Piquet had progressed from sixth on the grid to third by lap 17. Brake trouble caused him to flatspot his tires, however, and on lap 28 he pitted for new ones. This allowed Thierry Boutsen's Williams through, and though he battled a problem with his engine intermittently cutting out, he maintained third place to the flag. Piquet had to settle for fourth in his first drive for Benetton.
Prost had fallen back to ninth at the start with gearbox problems, and, while he advanced to fourth place by lap 17, his gearbox troubles proved terminal on lap 21. In the other Ferrari, Nigel Mansell retired from fifth on lap 49, when his clutch disintegrated and pierced the oil tank. The engine seized and caught fire, sending Mansell into a spin.
Senna built his lead over Alesi to 28.5 seconds, but backed off slightly when his engine began sounding less than healthy. Stefano Modena and Satoru Nakajima, in a Brabham and the second Tyrrell, respectively, finished the scoring in fifth and sixth places. It was the 21st win of Ayrton Senna's career and the first of six for the season. The Brazilian would go on to win his second World Championship. Alesi's podium finish was the first of his career.
The first two finishers were full of praise for one another after the race. Senna said he knew Alesi had the ingredients to be World Champion, and Alesi gushed, "He is my hero and has been for many years." Other winners in the race were Ken Tyrrell, with two cars in the points; and Pirelli, with three points finishers. About the only down note was the tiny crowd of 15,000 that witnessed such a great show.Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.