Features - News Feature

DECEMBER 1, 1989

The 1989 F1 season review


What CAN you say about Formula 1 in 1989? Even the most hardened and cynical observers have been getting the giggles this year. Neighbours was never like this! No, folks, Formula 1 makes Dallas look like a kiddies programme.

What CAN you say about Formula 1 in 1989? Even the most hardened and cynical observers have been getting the giggles this year. Neighbours was never like this! No, folks, Formula 1 makes Dallas look like a kiddies programme.

Why? Well, where to begin? There has been plenty of intra-team strife to keep the media happy, and drivers have been jumping around between the teams. But that's small potatoes really. Three top management men among the teams are presently under arrest.

One joke doing the rounds suggests that the World Championship will be sponsored by Amnesty International next year...

In the meantime McLaren-Honda continues to dominate the action, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost getting on like Bob Hawke and the airline pilots.

If you believe the press releases put out by the team, everything is rosy in happy valley. Problems are only ever 'slight' and no-one ever has a bad word to say about anyone else. Jelly and ice cream is permanently on tap! Yippee! Isn't life wonderful? Everyone is having such fun.

The reality is somewhat different. Senna and Prost haven't spoken to each other since Imola. They are now way beyond marriage guidance counselling. Prost has upped and gone to Ferrari for 1990.

And yet the team is still winning. Not with quite the domination enjoyed in 1988, but the Marlboro cars start every race as the favourites -- and rightly so. The chassis is adequate and Honda power is definitely the thing to have.

After the Italian GP at Monza, the score stood at McLaren-Honda 9 (Senna 5, Prost 4), Ferrari 2 (both Nigel Mansell), Williams-Renault 1 (Thierry Boutsen's fluke in the wet at Montreal).

The year began with an amazing result in Brazil when Mansell's Ferrari survived a race to win, having never survived beyond a handful of laps previously. The top six was covered by just 18 seconds.

"I know what happened," said an Italian pressman mysteriously after the race. What? Cried the press corps. What was the Ferrari secret?

"It was a miracle," said the Italian. Back at Maranello, they rang the church bells and said prayers of thanks.

But it had been a fluke and in the following races Ferrari suffered with continued problems with its semi-automatic gearbox. These were later traced to an alternator problem which disrupted the power supply to the computer chips working the revolutionary shift system.

A Ferrari victory ion Brazil naturally meant a huge crowd for the San Marino GP, but they did not go home happy for Gerhard Berger crashed out the race in horrifying fashion, his Ferrari smashing into a wall at the fastest corner of the Imola circuit. The mangled car slewed to a halt and then, with Berger slumped unconscious is the cockpit, burst into flames.

The next 15 seconds were like a lifetime for those watching, but rescue crews arrived at the scene with remarkable haste, put out the fire and pulled Berger free. It was a miraculous escape, although the Austrian was to miss one race, having skin grafts to his burned hands.

When the race was restarted the McLarens dominated, the Honda V10 power sufficient to outrun the rest. The result was a 1-2, Senna-Prost.

The same happened in Monaco and Senna won again in Mexico when Prost was delayed with tyre troubles.

In Phoenix Senna again led the pack convincingly, but retired with electrical trouble, handing Prost a victory.

In rain-soaked Montreal Alain retired early in the race with a suspension failure, while Ayrton led until the closing minutes when his engine blew, leaving Thierry Boutsen to pick up the pieces and his first F1 victory.

Back in Europe for the French GP Senna broke his transmission at the second start (the first having witnessed a dramatic accident caused by a cartwheeling Mauricio Gugelmin in his March). Prost won.

At Silverstone Senna led and spun out with a gearbox problem. Prost won. In Germany Senna dominated, Prost was second. But, by now the Ferrari team had solved its problems and was on the tail of the McLarens. Hungary is a track well suited to the handling of the Ferraris, and Nigel Mansell dispensed with everyone to win, despite starting 12th on the grid.

In Belgium and Italy, however, the fast nature of the tracks favoured Mclaren once more. Senna won in the wet at Spa and Prost profited from Senna's engine blowing up in the closing laps to win again.

The fact that McLaren is still winning, despite being a house divided, lends much credence to the belief that everyone else is losing.

The McLaren empire may stumble but in comparison to the rest it is only (slightly) shooting itself in the foot.

Ferrari hobbled itself with the electronic gearbox, which meant that it was effectively out of the World Championship by the mid-season. Berger's accident and subsequent series of non-finishes, meant that in the Constructor's Championship, McLaren had everything its own way. As the season progressed, however, the Ferrari V12 gradually gaained horsepower to close on the McLaren-Hondas.

Williams-Renault embarked on a learning year with the new Renault V10, which was a year behind McLaren in engine development. It fluked a win in Canada, but missed a deserved victory in Hungary when Riccardo Patrese led convincingly. By the mid-summer Patrese and Boutsen were looking forward to the arrival of the much-delayed new FW13, the FW12C having reached the full extent of its development potential.

As you can see the multi-cylinder engines (V10s and V12s) have had the legs on the V8s all year, even at the twisty tracks where the V8 users were convinced they might challenge for overall victory.

Thus a two-class system has developed: the 10s and 12s versus the rest.

The other V12 in the field -- from Lamborghini -- has been too new all year and the Larrousse team has struggled despite having one of the best chassis in the business.

The team, which has one partner in jail accused of murdering his wife, has already fired Yannick Dalmas and has engines which either stop or blow up. a lack of results -- if not speed -- meant that after the British GP the team dropped into pre-qualifying. More development is needed.

Of the V8 users, the quickest should be the Benetton team, wioth its exclusive use of the new Ford V8. the engine was late in arriving, the result of a major crankshaft problem.

While the team was waiting for its new engine, the internal politics grew to be reminiscent of Rollerball, with the various top knobs of the Team, the Benetton family and Ford rushing around, bashing the others over the head with blunt instruments.

The results of this unsightly show were the removal of young hero Johnny Herbert, who was 'rested', allegedly because of his leg injuries, after the Canadian GP and later of Peter Collins, one of the most respected F1 team managers in the business.

As all this was going on, the team was not getting results, a couple of third places being the best Alessandro Nannini could manage in the strained circumstances.

At Lotus there was a serious morale problem until a midsummer management reshuffle, which came about following the arrest of the team's Executive Chairman on fraud charges and the resignation of Team Director Peter Warr. Since then, thing shave begun to look up for the once-great team. Camel has been convinced to continue its sponsorship and both drivers have been replaced for 1990.

In addition the team has reached an agreement to run Lamborghini engines next year and with Derek Warwick and Martin Donnelly already signed will have a driver line-up capable and motivated for next year.

Brabham has had a messy year, as well, with nominal owner, Swiss financier Joachim Luthi, being arrested on fraud charges and a separate legal dispute over the ownership having undermined the efforts of a talented design and driving staff. Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena proved in Monaco that they have the talent neccesary, and the car has been good when its Pirelli tyres have allowed.

The end of the Goodyear tyre monopoly this year, meant the return of qualifying rubber. In this field Pirelli has had the better qualifiers but not the top rank teams. By buffing the tyres between runs (look out for the shiny ones) the cars have been able to have five or six qualifying runs, compared to Goodyears one run per set.

Tyrrell, Arrows and Leyton House Racing (nee March) have all managed to get one man onto a podium at one race this year.

Michele Alboreto took third in Mexico, but left the team shortly afterwards, in an unexplained dispute, and joined Lola. Since then Jonathan Palmer has tried in vain to fight off his younger team mates Jean Alesi and Johnny Herbert (standing in for Alesi when the Frenchman has been busy with F3000 commitments).

Alesi, who has already signed for Tyrrell for 1990, finished fourth on his F1 debut at the French GP, matching Herbert's performance for Benetton at the Brazilian GP. These debuts being the best in F1 since Mark Donohue finished third on his debut back in 1971.

Arrows took a lucky third in Phoenix when Eddie Cheever produced a good run in his city of his birth. Derek warwick, however, has overshadowed the American all year, and even led briefly in Montreal. Something, however, always seems to go wrong for Arrows and Warwick has decided to abandon ship for Ltous at the end of the year.

Leyton House Racing has had a busy year extricating itself from the the March Group and has struggled to get reliablity with its new car, although Mauricio Gugelmin took third in an old car in Brazil.

Of the rest of the V8 men, the best has been Scuderia Italia. The Italian team has enjoyed some fine performances from Alex Caffi, who ran second in Phoenix only to be taken out while lapping his own team-mate -- Andrea de Cesaris...

Minardi has come on during the year, thanks mainly to Pierluigi Martini and at Silverstone scored its best F1 result: fifth and sixth.

Ligier has collected points twice once in Phoenix when Rene Arnoux survived to the finish to take fifth and once in France when Olivier Grouillard earned sixth place racing. Grouillard has outshone Arnoux in almost all events throughout the year.

Onyx began the year shakily but has improved all year, taking fifth for Stefan Johansson in France, but still failing to escape pre-qualifying. the exciting new team needs a lot more experience to run with the big teams, but the potential is there.

AGS suffered the loss of Philippe Streiff at the start of the year, at the same time as financial takeover was in progress.

Streiff remains in hospital with bad back injuries but Gabriele Tarquini took up the challenge -- and even took a point in Mexico. Now the team cannot escape pre-qualifying.

Rial was fortunate to avoid a similar fate, Christian Danner surviving to finish fourth in Phoenix, which kept the German team out of pre-qualifying at the British GP. Since then neither car has qualified and the replacement of Volker Weidler by Pierre-Henri Raphanel has made no difference. The problem? The chassis has the structural rigidity of a sponge.

Osella has done well when Nicola Larini has made it through pre-qualifying, the talented young Italian running second in Montreal (!), but it remains the same Osella as ever. No money means no finishes.

Coloni waited a long time for a new chassis which meant that both cars had to pre-qualify after the British GP. The new C3 is not a bad car, but the team has no money for testing and one hour of pre-qualifying is just not enough, despite having an established talent such as Roberto Moreno doing his utmost to make the cut.

EuroBrun has been a mess of political in-fighting between factions in Germany, Italy and Britain, and with the unexperienced Gregor Foitek driving (until recently when he was replaced by Oscar Larrauri) has never looked like succeeding, while Zakpseed has been an unmitigated disaster the Yamaha V8 engines failing to produce sufficient power without blowing up.

And what does it all prove?

Ayrton is the fastest driver in the world... Gerhard Berger is lucky to be alive... the Ferraris are improving...

...and everyone else needs to get their act together.