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The 1989 Season

The 1989 Season

My personal recollections of bygone seasons has reached 1989, the year that saw the return to naturally aspirated engines and a variety of V8, V10 and V12 motors in the back of twenty different teams which were driven by fifty-three different drivers.

But it was the McLarens of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna this year using Honda V12s that continued to dominate although not to the extent of the previous year ‘only’ winning ten of the sixteen rounds.

Despite Senna winning six Grands Prix to Prost’s four, it was the latter who won his third World Championship. The other six victories went to Nigel Mansell, first time out for Ferrari at the season’s opener in Rio and again in Hungary, the first two wins for Thierry Boutsen (Williams), one for Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) and what would be Alessandro Nannini’s only win inherited at Suzuka after Ayrton Senna was disqualified for missing the chicane following his altercation with team-mate Alain Prost.

My opening race was a return visit to Imola. I drove down overnight on the Thursday, found a little hotel in the Adriatic resort of Riccione and went to the circuit on Saturday and Sunday before driving home overnight after the race. Having watched the race from Ravazza the previous year I opted for the other tifosi stronghold of Tosa this year with its distant view to the exit of Tamburello, the Tosa hairpin and away up the hill past the vineyard.

The view may have been different but the result was the same as the previous year – a Senna, Prost one-two, a lap ahead of everyone else. The two McLarens really looked and sounded in a class of their own. Also, little did we realise it but by the time Senna lead Prost into Tosa on the opening lap of the restarted race following Berger’s fiery accident the two drivers were at war following a spat about some pre-race agreement as to who should be leading. We had a distant view of Berger ploughing head on into the concrete wall and feared the worst but fortunately he only suffered minor burns and injuries.

For Silverstone I was able to obtain a pass for the Thursday and although there was no track action it was always a good day to roam the paddock and pit lane and photograph the cars and drivers in preparation. I based myself in London and drove up and back daily watching the race wandering around general admission. Prost won from Nigel Mansell after Senna spun out of the lead at Becketts where I happened to be at the time.

I had only been to Hockenheim once before, in a working assignment ten years previously, and to be honest found both the circuit and the location rather dull. So for my European road trip I decided to make a return visit and take in some detours along the way. I spent a day touring Ypres and its surrounding First World War battlefields, stayed a night above a little bar in the centre of Namur where I had taken shelter from a torrential thunderstorm, did a lap of the old Spa circuit, camped for a couple of nights in Koblenz beside the river Rhine, spent a day in Heidelburg, took a Rhine river cruise and a drive along the banks of the Moselle to do some wine tasting.

For Hockenheim itself, I based myself in a nearby campsite with a lake for watersports. I had a general admission ticket For Friday practice at Ostkurve which I eventually found after a trek through the forest. I was the only one there for early morning pre-qualifying and had the spectator bank to myself. There was no public address so I had no idea which four of the thirteen participants made the cut until after the session when the Autosport, Autocar and LAT photographers arrived trackside ready for the first practice session and filled me in on the details. By the time the session started the area had filled up and was quite a popular spot especially for the amateur photographer. The GA ticket also permitted access to the Innentribune and I watched the afternoon session from there although I preferred the remoteness and ambience of the forest section.

For the race I sat in the Nordtribune with a view of the main straight, pits and first bend as Senna beat Prost in another McLaren one-two.

My final race was the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa for a race day visit only. I drove down overnight Saturday and home again after the race. Although the race was now established in late summer it was very wet. Senna and Prost again finished one-two and it was telling to see on the podium FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre celebrating with second and third placed Prost and Mansell and totally ignoring winner Senna.

On leaving Spa the Championship was finely poised with Prost holding an eleven point lead over Senna with five races still to go. But in Portugal, Senna eliminated himself after a collision with Mansell’s Ferrari, for which Mansell received a one race ban as he was being shown a black flag at the time for reversing in the pit lane. And the shenanigans at the final round in Japan between the two McLaren drivers clinched it for Prost.

So that was 1989, continuing domination by one team, squabbling team mates and drivers pushing one another off track. Sounds familiar.