Road & Track - August 1990

Report by Innes Ireland

1990 San Marino GP winner

Past years have shown that the San Marino Grand Prix results were a fairly accurate pointer to what the forthcoming races of the Formula 1 season would hold. This year, with a seven-week break between the Brazilian and the San Marino GP's, the teams had an unusually long period to prepare for the start of the European season. Much testing was carried out by most teams during the lull, the McLaren-Honda team coming out on top. Because their driver Ayrton Senna won the race in 1988 and 1989 and was looking for a hat-trick, it seemed a repeat was definitely on the cards.

In qualifying Gerhard Berger set the pace, which Senna could not match until later in the session when he recorded his 44th pole time in 1:23.220. So the McLarens did start 1-2. But the result of this incredible San Marino race, which put real heart back into Grand Prix racing, was no rerun, leaving no doubt that a McLaren-Honda walkover was far from being a possibility and that they would have to work jolly hard for every point.

The new Tyrrell 019 - with its curiously shaped front wings and nose section vaguely reminiscent of the Concorde SST - was going extremely well in the hands of Jean Alesi. Considering Imola is a power circuit and the Tyrrell is giving away perhaps 80bhp, Alesi did well to take 7th place, his time just a fraction slower than Alain Prost's. For a team with infinitely fewer resources, this was heartening indeed and proof that the innovative nose and wing shape actually does work. I was in the Williams factory recently talking with their wind-tunnel expert who said they would have to try a similar shape to see whether it works.

The Benetton-Ford team continues to make progress although it is obvious the V-8's do not yet have the power to compare with the V-12 and V-10 engines.

For the first time since Sir Jack we had a Brabham driving a Brabham. This was the youngest of Jack's three sons, David, who is, according to Jack, the quickest of the lot. Sadly his car was brand new with all the attendant problems one might expect. David failed to qualify by 0.260sec.

Pierluigi Martini had a very lucky escape on Friday afternoon when he crashed his Minardi. The tires lining the course at Imola are enormous truck tires, and somehow the nose of the Minardi went inside one of them. The impact snapped off the nose of the car immediately in front of the dashboard, leaving Martini's legs sticking out. Miraculously his only injury was a cracked ankle bone, but he should be fit for Canada.

There is always an undercurrent of excitement at Imola, and with the sun shining, every inch of the spectator areas was occupied even though the fans' beloved Ferraris were back on row three.

At the start, an anxious Berger was moving before the green came on, and it looked to me as if the rest of the pack followed. Exiting Tamburello, Nigel Mansell got on the grass and raised a dense cloud of dust which caused chaos further down the field. Unable to see where he was going, Ivan Capelli edged over onto Satoru Nakajima, who suddenly found himself on the grass and into the wall. Fortunately Nakajima escaped injury. Capelli was also out and Roberto Moreno, who collected sand in his throttle slides, retired at the end of the lap.

Under braking for Tosa, the slow left-hander at the end of the straight, there was a real traffic jam. Senna took the inside line and stole the corner from Berger to go into the lead. Thierry Boutsen was right behind, just ahead of Riccardo Patrese followed by the two Ferraris side by side.

Jean Alesi, in the Tyrrell of the funny nose, came bombing down the inside, raising clouds of dust, showing his usual lack of respect for his elders and perhaps an overdose of youthful exuberance. And it was quite apparent he was going to go past both even though there wasn't enough room. Alongside Mansell, he gave him a wheel-to-wheel bump and as Mansell moved over, Prost had to get out of the way. And get past Alesi did, the blue and white Tyrrell following the two Williams out of the corner with Prost taking to the grass where he collected a lot of muck on his tires and some dust in his throttle intakes.

Ending lap 1 Senna had pulled out a slender lead followed by Boutsen who had edged past Berger. Then came Patrese, Alesi, Mansell, Prost and the two Benetton-Fords of Nelson Piquet and Alessandro Nannini. Prost dropped back during the next two laps to allow the accumulated dirt to clean off his tires, losing a place to Piquet. No sooner had this happened than Senna pulled off the circuit with a deflated right rear tire, and to the delight of the crowds, the McLaren came to rest in a sand trap.

Berger was unable to make any impression on Boutsen's now-leading Williams-Renault, which was running very strongly and seemingly with ease. But this wasn't the case, as Boutsen was having trouble with his gear-change mechanism, Changing to 3rd gear at one point, Thierry got 1st, which desperately over-revved the engine, and a few laps later he pulled into the pits, trailing oil, to retire.

With Mansell and Prost established in 3rd and 4th positions, the race was falling into a pattern. Although I had seen smoke coming from Mansell's car as he accelerated away from one of the corners as early as lap 7, it didn't appear to be getting any worse, and with one third of the race gone, he managed to get Patrese, and this gave the Ferrari fans something to cheer about as he set off to close the gap on Berger. Berger may have been a Ferrari driver last year, but that didn't make him the darling of the crowds now that he is driving a McLaren.

Mansell seems to thrive on the adulation of the crowds, and this he was getting in full measure as he closed on Berger. He was within 3 sec. when he came up to lap Andrea de Cesaris, who should have seen Mansell closing rapidly all the way down the straight - had he chosen to look in his mirrors. Obviously he didn't, for in the braking area at Tosa, de Cesaris chopped across, forcing Mansell onto the grass where the Ferrari almost spun. Mansell caught it and regained the track, but he had lost valuable seconds.

More drama came later when Nigel went into Tamburello, the corner after the pits. Exiting at around 180mph, Mansell pulled to the left to go by when Berger also moved left. To avoid contact, Mansell took to the grass where his car snapped into a vicious spin, then back onto the road, where he caught it and carried on without stopping.

Mansell was furious, for although I found it difficult to believe of Berger, the move did look like a deliberate blocking maneuver. Berger later explained that before Tamburello he had seen Mansell closing rapidly and realized he would come past on the following straight. He then gave all his attention to the ultrafast corner and tightened his line to allow the Ferrari to come by on his right. The next thing he knew he was seeing Mansell on his left and going into the grass, an explanation I fully believe.

Next time around Mansell was 6 sec. down on Berger, and although one would have thought his tires would have been spoiled in such a long, high-speed spin, he was closing the gap on the leader. It was less than 3 sec. on lap 38 when a dense cloud of blue smoke erupted from the back of the Ferrari. Freewheeling, Mansell came directly into the pits, a bitterly disappointed and angry man.

At lap 41, with 20 to run, Berger led Patrese by just 4 sec. Nannini was 3rd, just 8 sec. down with Prost now within 11 sec. of the Benetton-Ford and still closing. Piquet was going like gangbusters and was within 9 sec. of Prost. Alesi was a distant 6th.

Now it was Patrese who provided the excitement as he nibbled away at Berger's lead until he was right on his tail. Then he dropped back slightly as Berger responded to the challenge, a response Gerhard couldn't maintain for Patrese was in irrepressible form, his Williams-Renault running to perfection. The as they tore down the main straight starting the 51st lap, Patrese went ahead.

Years ago, when he was driving for Brabham, Patrese took his car into the lead in the San Marino GP in the closing laps of the race. Then, in his wilder days, he no sooner was in the lead than his concentration lapsed and he had an accident. Now, in his 195th GP, he wasn't about to make the same mistake and brought his car home to a well deserved win on his home ground. And if a Ferrari didn't win, at least the locals had one of their own kind to cheer.

It was a wonderfully exciting race with just 6.843 sec. covering the first four cars, all different makes, all different engines. Piquet deserved a pat on the back for bringing the second Benetton into the points, with Alesi 1 lap down in the new Pirelli-shod Tyrrell to signal a closing of the gap in the tire war.

There are many things to ponder now, for nothing looks clear cut.

Race Results

  1. Riccardo Patrese (Williams)
  2. Gerhard Berger (McLaren)
  3. Alessandro Nannini (Benetton)
  4. Alain Prost (Ferrari)
  5. Nelson Piquet (Benetton)
  6. Jean Alesi (Tyrrell)

Riccardo's Comments:

"Because I didn't have a fantastic start I decided to save my car for the end of the race and it was the right choice. With 20 laps to go I started to push very hard and the car was perfect and I was able to catch and overtake Gerhard without any problems. I did drop back from him at one point because I got close to him, but coming out to the Rivazza corner my car went a bit sideways and I got some dirt on my tyres, so for a couple of laps I had to clean my tyres. The car performed perfectly, and especially the brakes which were the main concern. Obviously I am very happy."