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The 1990 Season

The 1990 Season


My personal reminisces of bygone seasons has reached 1990, a new decade maybe but not much change in the world of Formula One. For the third season in a row the World Championship was a two-way battle between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost and for the third season in a row McLaren-Honda did the drivers’ and constructors’ double.

Senna won six out of sixteen Grands Prix on his way to clinching his second title and Prost won five. As per the previous season the title was decided when the pair contrived to take each out at Suzuka although this year as early as the first bend just a few seconds after the start.

One main difference was that Prost was now driving for Ferrari having got fed up of being Senna’s team-mate. His new team-mate, Nigel Mansell, could only manage one victory but that was better than Senna’s new team-mate, Gerhard Berger, who did not win any.

My first race was not until halfway through the season , the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. My days of acquiring ad-hoc passes were over, partly due to the system and partly due to the fact my erstwhile employers/benefactors had moved on – as had I. I did obtain a pass, however, for the Thursday, my favourite day of a Silverstone weekend when it was possible to photograph the cars and drivers on a non-track day.

Prost won, breaking my run of seeing only McLaren victories for the past two seasons and he left the circuit with a two point lead over Senna. We were also treated to the sight of Nigel Mansell throwing his gloves and balaclava into the crowd after another retirement followed by his post-race announcement that he was retiring from Formula One at the end of the year, tired with what he perceived as unequal treatment from Ferrari. He would later change his mind and rejoin Williams for the forthcoming season.

Next up for me was the Belgian Grand Prix and my usual Spa routine; drive direct to the circuit overnight Friday for Saturday practice, Saturday night in Brussels, then home again overnight after the race. Senna won after two restarts, three starts in total, following red flags after first lap accidents.

I decided to combine my first visit to Jerez for the Spanish Grand Prix with an Andalusian holiday, flying to Seville where I had booked a city centre hotel for the week. I hired a car at the airport as Jerez was some distance away and also to enable me to do some sight-seeing on my days off. As well as the commute to the circuit I explored the cities of Seville and Jerez themselves, took in a show at the famous Royal Andalusian Riding School (in deference to my girlfriend who liked horses but not F1), spent a day driving through the pueblos blancos to Ronda, a day in Cadiz and although it was late September still warm enough for a couple of days swimming from the secluded beaches of the Costa de Luz.

It was still dark when I arrived at the circuit on Friday morning for pre-qualifying in what at best would be taking place in twilight conditions. I had no advance ticket, in those days it was not necessary for an event so poorly attended but when I got there mine was the only car in the car park and non of the ticket kiosks were open. Only the competitors and officials entrance was open and although I tried I could not pursuade them to let me in. I ended up standing on a pile of rubble in the car park where I could catch a brief glimpse of the pre-qualifiers over the wall which for most of the session were just silhouettes outlined against a breaking dawn sky. The ticket sellers did arrive in time for first practice.

The Friday practice session was the occasion of Martin Donelly’s horrendous accident which happened just up track from where I was viewing. I did not see the impact but heard it followed by the gasps from my fellow spectators. There was the the back half of his yellow Lotus, detached wheels, the steering column and other bits of debris scattered along the track with one piece to which the marshals were paying particular attention. I realised this was Martin himself, still strapped to his seat with one of his legs badly bent. It was with relief when we found out the following day he had survived. Senna retired and Prost won keeping open his slender chances of taking the title.

One week later there was another near tragedy when Benetton driver, Alessandro Nannini who had finished third at Jerez, severed his right arm in a helicopter accident. Although his arm was successfully re-attached it ended his rising Formula 1 career.

A few seconds into the following race at Suzuka the Championship was decided in Senna’s favour. There were allegations that Senna had deliberately punted Prost off as payback for the previous year but ultimately Ferrari did not protest and there was no action taken by the stewards or FIA so that was that.