F1 Blast from the Past: Senna and Mansell Collide at Estoril

Background

Round thirteen of the 1989 Formula One World Championship was held at Portugal’s Estoril circuit. Alain Prost was closing in on a third title, he arrived at Estoril with a 20-point margin over his McLaren-Honda teammate Ayrton Senna in the Driver’s Championship with just four races remaining.

Prost had a commanding lead in the driver’s championship going into Portugal. Image: Pinterest

Senna had suffered another mechanical failure at the previous race in Monza, allowing Prost to win the race. However, the Frenchman’s relationship with the team and in particular McLaren boss, Ron Dennis was at an all-time low after he had infamously dropped his winning trophy to the crowd at the Italian Grand Prix.

Qualifying

Predictably, Senna took his tenth pole position of the season in qualifying, ahead of the competitive looking Ferrari’s of Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell. Fourth fastest was a disappointed Prost in the second McLaren.

Ferrari were looking extremely quick at Estoril. Image: Motor Sport Magazine

Pirelli’s qualifying tyres had worked remarkably well throughout the season and Pierluigi Martini utilised them in his Minardi to take fifth on the grid ahead of Riccardo Patrese in the new Williams FW13.

Another Pirelli user, Alex Caffi was seventh in the Dallara ahead of Boutsen in the other Williams. Luis Perez-Sala qualified the second Minardi a career-best ninth. The top ten was completed by Martin Brundle’s Brabham, another Pirelli runner.

Further down the grid, Roberto Moreno qualified his Coloni 15th in what would prove to be the final time the underfunded Italian team made it on to the grid.

Race Day

Race day welcomed a hot and sunny Portuguese afternoon for 71 laps of the Estoril circuit. At the start, it was Gerhard Berger who made the better getaway and took the lead from Senna, with Mansell and Prost following behind as the field negotiated the opening lap without incident.

The field got away without any incidents. Image: Reddit.

Berger proceeded to pull away from the battling Senna and Mansell. After the Englishman finally got past Senna on Lap 8, he began to reel in Berger whose blistering pace at the start had taken its toll on the Ferrari’s tyres. The first retirement of the race came after 11 laps, as the unfortunate Moreno suffered electrical problems in his Coloni.

As the leading Ferrari duo came up to lap the battling backmarkers of Derek Warwick and Stefano Modena, Mansell seized his opportunity and overtook Berger on Lap 23. Senna was still close behind in third, as his teammate Prost was the first of the leading runners to make a pit-stop for fresh tyres.

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On Lap 35, Berger headed for the pits, handing second place to Senna before the Brazilian made his pit-stop a lap later. The next pit-stop would prove a pivotal part of the race, with leader Mansell coming in too quickly and missing his box. Mansell then engaged reverse gear, despite his mechanics signalling to him to stay put.

This calamitous pit-stop handed the lead to Martini in the Minardi, the first and only time in the little Italian outfit’s history that it would lead a Grand Prix. Berger quickly closed in and retook the lead with Senna following suit.

Closing stages

Mansell had been recovering quickly and closed on Ayrton Senna again, but that pit-stop error came back to haunt him. On Lap 47, he was shown the black flag for illegally reversing in the pit-lane. Mansell claimed he did not see the flag, due to low sun and carried on hounding Senna for second place.

On the next lap, Mansell passed the black flag again and attempted an opportunistic manoeuvre on Senna, the two collided and both drivers were out of the race. The incident put a severe dent in Senna’s chances of retaining his title, as Prost was now up to second place.

Senna and Mansell’s crash was one of the pivotal moments of the 1989 season. Image: F1i

The defending champion stood disconsolately at the side of the track, while a furious Ron Dennis remonstrated with Ferrari team principal Cesare Fiorio in the pits.

Back on the circuit, the drama continued as the reliability fears of the new Williams were realised after 60 laps. Both Patrese and Boutsen retired after their cars suffered problems with overheating. This allowed Stefan Johansson in the unfancied Onyx to move up into third place. The Swede had gone the whole race distance without making a pit-stop and was now reaping the rewards.

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At the front, Gerhard Berger carried on flawlessly in the Ferrari to take his first victory of the season, a major boost in confidence for the Austrian after a miserable campaign. Prost brought his McLaren home second ahead of the extraordinary Johansson, scoring his first podium finish for over two years.

Alessandro Nannini finished fourth in the Benetton, while Pierluigi Martini rounded off a fine weekend for Minardi with two points for fifth place. The final point was taken by Jonathan Palmer in the Tyrrell.

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Although Berger had scored a fine victory, it was his Ferrari teammate Mansell who grabbed all the headlines. The Englishman was given a one-race ban for reversing in the pit lane and ignoring the black flag, while the Italian team were fined $50,000.

Mansell protested that he did not see the flag and refuted allegations he ignored it, threatening to retire from the sport altogether. It was little consolation for Senna, though, who now sat 24 points behind Prost with only three races left.

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview your Portuguese GP weekend? The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their preview for this weekend’s race at Portimao. George Howson hosted Tom Horrox, Phil Mathew and Henrico Marks to discuss all of the talking points ahead of Round 3. Audio and video versions of the show are available below:

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