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#473 1989 United States Grand Prix

2021-10-16 00:00

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#473 1989 United States Grand Prix

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In October 1988, the officials of the Detroit city in Michigan refuse to invest more money in order to make the circuit complaint with the new FIA regulations. There is also a failed attempt to bring the race to the Belle Isle circuit, an island in the middle of the river Detroit. As a result, the Detroit race is cancelled for the 1989 season. The Arizona authorities are thus interested in hosting a big sporting event in order to promote the arid and deserted Phoenix city around the world. A Formula 1 race comes into play after Bernie Ecclestone makes a desperate attempt to not lose the United Grand Prix. On Friday 13th January 1989, the Phoenix city council signs a five-years contract with Formula 1 in order to promote and manage the race that will held on Sunday 4th June 1989.

 

Phoenix obtains the race on short notice despite the fact that it is extremely warm in June. Formula Atlantic, which is the support junior category for the weekend, has the first practice session on Thursday. Then the Formula 1 cars are given the green light to go out on track for the pre-qualifying session on Friday morning at 8:00. The Atlantic category has a couple of issues throughout the session. A drain cover is raised for example. Furthermore, the track surface at turn 9, at the end of the straight (Washington Street), is starting to break down in the same way that the Detroit and Dallas circuits have done in the past. Fast-drying cement is laid on the mantle during the night in order to patch the broken surface of the street. It will hold on for the rest of the weekend even if it is dusty and irregular.

 

It is not very hot in these early days of June 1989 at Phoenix. The temperature is only 34-35 °C. It should be around 40 °C around the summer period, even in the shade. The breathing air can also become an optional in these cases. This is where Formula 1 will race this year. The pilgrimage throughout the United States of America reaches many places so far: from Long Beach to Las Vegas, from Dallas to Detroit. Now it is Arizona’s turn to held a race. It is a desert-like state in the South where the green diamond of Phoenix opens up in between depressing zone and arid mountains. It is considered to be the city of electronics. At least 100.000 spectators will attend the race. The tickets cost up to 200 dollars and the business turnover should be around 15.000.000 dollars. It is clearly a business. This race track will stay in the future if the predictions are respected, like it was the case for other locations. If not, then the drivers will have to find another showcase in the United States. The circuit design is very similar to the Detroit one. It is approximately 4 kilometres long and is key-shaped. All drivers do not know this track. Gabriele Tarquini says that is better to tour this circuit on foot and then by car. He is a component of the Italian quarter together with Riccardo Patrese, Michele Alboreto and Alessandro Nannini. They respectively finished in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th place in Mexico.

 

"It is impressive because it looks like a slow track with tight corners on paper. The roadway is very wide in reality. It also appears that there are high-speed hairpins as well. We will probably drive beyond the 300 km/h mark in some points of the track. The average speed should be 170 km/h, which is even higher than at Monte-Carlo. The corners are rapid and there are two terrifying straights, Jefferson and Washington Street. We will go through cement walls, metallic nets, donkey roads, potholes and manholes. There are at least dozens of those in one single point of the track. There is also one at the pit entrance that has a sharp edge. It is very dangerous for the tyres. Let’s hope that they remove those given that the track resurface is still ongoing. It looks like Sunday will be an elimination derby at first glance. Few cars will probably finish the race".

 

Gabriele Tarquini never ceases to amaze. He is seven exams short from finishing the Jurisprudence degree. In addition, he can get a good result here as well. His Ags car is not particularly fast but is reliable. Will the race really be held on Sunday 4th June 1989? The suffocating heat, the ultra-rapid track, the innovations and unknowns of the case suggest that unforeseen events will happen as well. That is unless the drivers once again will throw themselves as arena gladiators in front of hungry lions. The track situation will be exposed during the first practice session on Friday 2nd June 1989. Scuderia Ferrari arrives at Phoenix after making a pit-stop at Disneyland. There are insisting rumours that John Barnard will leave Maranello to form a team with Alain Prost and that Gustav Brunner might make a return. The Austrian engineer, who was part of the Ferrari team until 1987, created the car that won the Suzuka and Adelaide races at the end of that particular season.

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Bernie Ecclestone proposes the introduction of a handicap in order to avoid boring races and continued supremacies (McLaren-Senna for instance). A previous winner should compulsorily stop one more time, compared to his rivals, in order to change tyres during the following race. What if Ayrton Senna wins again? The team managers refuse this proposal regardless. The drivers will run in the dark like a fierce poker game. Friday 2nd June soon comes. It is time for the pre-qualifying morning session at 8:00 a.m. The first drivers to get out on track are the ones that need to pre-qualify. 13 drivers, including Nicola Larini, Stefano Modena, Piercarlo Ghinzani and Alex Caffi, are forced to give everything that they have got during the one-hour session. The other drivers, such as Senna, Prost, Mansell and Berger, are not making bold claims about this race track yet:

 

"It is too early to judge. We will be able to do so after the first testing day. It seems like a well prepared and quick race track. There are many unknowns regarding the track surface. We are not like the bike drivers that refuse to race if the conditions are barely acceptable".

 

Everything is thus postponed to Friday 2nd June 1989. At the eve of the fifth round of the Formula 1 championship, the paddock continues to talk about the present and the future. Cesare Florio denies that Ferrari contacted Gustav Brunner:

 

"We are still monitoring the situation with Barnard. He is still our technical designer. Nothing has been decided yet. It is obvious that we will not be taken up by surprise if something happens. We have two or three options available to us. Brunner is not one even if we know that he is a valuable technician".

 

There are speculations that the automatic gearbox is causing many problems. Meanwhile, Ferrari team president Piero Fusaro is watching the Lancia car taking victory at the Oreria rally. When asked about the cause for his team’s lack of results in the previous three races by the journalists, he indicates that the gearbox is the main issue. Cesare Fiorio, team principal of the Scuderia Ferrari team, explains that:

 

"The electronic-controlled gearbox is certainly one of the causes for our current difficulties. We made some steps forward in trying to make it more reliable. It is an avant-garde solution but it makes us pay the price for the noviciate. There is always the possibility to go back to a mechanical gearbox at Ferrari however it would take long to do so. We would not be able to bring in time for Monza even if we work during the night, granted that the tests need to give us a positive feedback".

 

Fiorio then talk about the competiveness of the 040:

 

"We should not go well here in theory. We will wait until Friday in order to have some confirmations. Based on a thorough analysis of the data from the Mexican race, I am even more convinced that the car will be more competitive from now on. A step forward has already been made with the adoption of the air scope, i.e. that large air inlet on the bonnet which makes it possible to significantly improve the performance of the engine. We will then install the same qualitatively superior gearbox oil fittings that broke in Mexico. Let’s hope that leaks do not open up somewhere else".

 

Speaking about drivers, Nigel Mansell is in perfect form. On the other hand, Gerhard Berger says that he feels better even if he is not yet in top physical shape:

 

"I would like to do some laps at Fiorano before the Canadian Grand Prix and train myself. I do not know if I can do it yet. We will see how I get on after this race. It will be very challenging and physically demanding".

 

Let’s go back to the John Barnard topic. There is the impression that the upcoming days are decisive days regarding the English designer’s stay at Ferrari. Another rumour is spreading in the last hours. An agency probably approached him in order to realize a complete car by providing a V12 engine. John Barnard did not have brilliant result with Ferrari apart from the Brazilian victory. At the same time though, he is evidently held esteem inside the team. In the meantime, back at Woking, Alain Prost complains that he has less valid engines compared to Ayrton Senna. Ron Dennis, the McLaren manager, emphasizes that the material is the same for both drivers. The circuit is not rejected after the first free-practice session. The race weekend will go ahead unless there are last-minute second thoughts.

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Meanwhile, the controversy between Alain Prost and McLaren-Honda continues. Ron Dennis calls for a press conference after receiving favouritism allegations towards Senna. He explains the team’s positions, the truth regarding this topic and so on:
 
"The engines are identical. All the material that we have is equally divided between our drivers. Honda assured us that there are no differences. What advantage would we have by favouring one driver over the other? The only one that needs to win is McLaren. We are sorry that the team was not perfect in Mexico. We made some mistakes in changing the tyres on Prost’s car and we lost precious time! It must never happen again".
 
Ayrton, who is evidently called into question, says:
 
"This engine story does not stand if I may say the truth. Honda extracts the engines before the race in order to not be biased. They do this with little notes. It is like a lottery. How could you favour someone this way?"
 
Alain cannot replicate to his words. He thus rumbles:
 

"It is true that there is a draw but what is the point of it if you do it on Thursday evening? We all know that the engines are equal per say. The performances are affected by the electronic mappings, i.e. those programs that are inserted in the control units that manage the engines. So if you want, you can increase or decrease the power and output at will. The cars should be extracted in the starting grid in order to avoid any manipulations. However, it is impossible to do so. There would be no time left to fine-tune them according to the driver’s needs".

 

Disaster was feared, like for example an eventual contestation of the drivers. This did not happen and the pre-qualifying session is almost running smoothly. The first act of the United States Grand Prix ends without any issues. There is a half-an-hour delay that is caused by a couple of consequence-free incidents. 13 cars, in front of a modest public, as it was the case in Mexico, are admitting to the qualifying sessions. The qualifiers are: Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena, who drive for Brabham, Alex Caffi for Scuderia Italia and Stefan Johansson’s Onyxi. Ghinzani, Raphanel, Foitek, Larini, Wlnkelhock, Weidler, Schneider, Suzuki and Gachot are eliminated. both Osella cars do not qualify for the rest of the weekend. This result provokes a crisis inside the Volpiano team. Piercarlo Ghinzani says:

 

"I will go home at this point. I will talk with my sponsors and quit the activity 99%. The car is not bad. It is actually fairly competitive. I am sure that both car would enter the top-20 in a true timed session. An absurd regulation is eliminating us".

 

Nicola Larini is also very disappointed. The young Toscana driver, who is contacted by Ferrari, is also forced to stop due to an axle shaft failure.

 

"You cannot arrive on a track where everything is unknown and pretend to give your maximum. I, for example, had wrong gear ratios. Furthermore, Pirelli did not give us the fastest tyres. They are reserved to the official team. This is the reason why we will never qualify at this rate".

 

The Osella team is going through a tough period. The Piedmont manufacturer is not giving up though. This same problem involves other teams after all, such as the German Zakspeed team. This team never qualified despite having an advertising budget that is close to 13 billions of lire and the Yamaha engine. It is always very far behind the top teams in terms of performance. It is rumoured in the paddock that Zakspeed is close to retire in Formula 1. Let’s go back to free-practice. The drivers have accepted this circuit according to Stefano Modena:

 

"It is still very slippery as expected. There are too many manholes. A repair of the asphalt with rapid-dry cement provokes some grip issues. The track is not bad overall. It is better than Detroit".

 

Today’s incidents involve the German driver Weidler who suffers from a broken suspension in the Rial car. There are also many spins coming from Modena, Suzuki, Foitek and Larini. Almost all competitors dance the initiation dance of this circuit. It is not as bad as one might have expected.  It is better to wait what the top drivers might say about this track before giving a final judgement. In the meantime, Bernie Ecclestone’s proposals are discussed inside the Formula 1 paddock. As said before, he wants to introduce handicap races in order to give a better balance to the championship. Everyone criticizes the idea but Ecclestone does not lose his humoristic side:

 

"They would only accept my idea if McLaren would have to stop one more time".

 

He has a point. The FOCA president is maybe only stirring things up in order to get people speaking about Formula 1. The public, at least the television one, is still excellent although the advertisement is the soul of business. The two McLaren cars continue to dominate during the qualifying session despite a scorching sun (35 °C in the shadow and 55 °C track temperature) Ayrton Senna is ahead of his teammate, Alain Prost as usual. Nigel Mansell is 3rd fastest in the Ferrari. At the same time, the Maranello team lives a trepidation day. Gerhard Berger suffers a sudden illness. The Austrian driver is forced to abandon the last free-practice session after suffering from a terrible nausea and gags. His health remarkably improves thanks to treatment and injection. He is thus able to finish the first qualifying session in 11th place. Nigel Mansell accuses the same symptoms as well after qualifying. One might think that the two drivers suffers light intoxication or that the air conditioning is the cause of it.

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There is a family battle going on between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The latter is always behind his teammate. In the meantime, the Italian drivers do not lose heart and will do anything to remain at the top. The quiet Alex Caffi is a thoroughbred Brescia driver and n.2 at Lucchini’s Scuderia Italia team. Beppe is the son of the ex Confindustria president. Alex held the Italian honour high by setting the 6th fastest time behind Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Derek Warwick and Martin Brundle. It is an incredible result that arouses no little astonishment. The young Lombardy driver bullies his way to the front of the Italian group that is composed by Alessandro Nannini, Andrea De Cesaris, Eddie Cheever (American by birth but Roma adopted) and Michele Alboreto. He however had to go through the morning pre-qualifying session first. The risk of being unable to not start the race was high but got away with it. This is another sign of the goodness of the Italian school in Formula 1 even if there are no top seat available and thus no possible winning chance. Scuderia Ferrari is thinking about taking a possible victory since Nigel Mansell will start behind the McLaren drivers. Cesare Fiorio admits:

 

"We were right behind Senna in the last race. We then had a stupid failure which forced us to retire. I am now convinced that Honda has qualifying engines. This is the reason why the two McLaren driver are unbeatable when it is time to set a fast lap. The situation might improve during the race tomorrow. McLaren is still the favourite due to the fact that they have low-speed power".

 

Scuderia Ferrari lives yet another troublesome day thanks to the mentioned illness that affected Gerhard Berger. He falls victim of either a congestion, that was either due to cold or heat or food poisoning. The Austrian is still able to qualify in 11th place despite suffering a lot. He undergoes further treatment in the evening. McLaren, who dominated the first testing day on Friday, cannot stay too calm. During the technical FIA verifications, the stewards reveal that the rear wings are too wide. Thus, the drivers cannot see almost a thing in the rear mirrors that should be perfectly functional. After a lengthy discussion, it is decided to take away the last four laps from Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. It is the moment where those special wings were fitted. It is a questionable decision from the Fisa men given that they were stricter with many other teams. McLaren was already accused in two previous occasions of using wings that do not comply with the FIA regulations. Would it not be time to use the same yardstick for everyone? Piercarlo Ghinzani, who was driving for Osella, was disqualified for not seeing the red light at the pit entrance. It is also evident that a small team cannot benefit from such favours.

 

Let’s change topic. Arizona is not a gambling state as the near Nevada. However, on Sunday 4th June 1989, the United States Grand Prix will certainly be a roulette race. Unpredictability could play an important role. It goes without saying that the McLaren duo of Ayrton Senna and Alain are favoured drivers to win this race. This time though, they will have to deal with the rivals' attempts at redemption. In addition, this tricky city circuit has many traps: a crumbled asphalt, the barrier that a few centimetres away from the tyres, the unknown corners, the manholes and so on. Furthermore, the difficult Arizona environment and the terrible heat make up for an explosive cocktail. The weather forecast says that the temperature is beyond 43 °C degrees. This track will be a massive challenge for the drivers, the tyres and the mechanics.

 

It is overall a very tough race. Surprises cannot be excluded if the mentioned assumption is confirmed. It is maybe the first time that an outsider, in this case the small teams, could have a chance to score a prestigious result. Alex Caffi and Andrea De Cesaris, driving for Scuderia Italia, Michele Alboreto for Tyrrell, Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena for Brabham and Derek Warwick with Arrows can do well here. The Formula 1 paddock prays that something big happens in order to interrupt the McLaren domination. Ferrari and Nigel Mansell have the most relevant role of contrasting Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Gerhard Berger is still battered by the new misadventure that befell him in previous days. Doctor Musatti explains:

 

"It is easier for Gerhard to think that he has a cold rather than food poisoning. He is clearly debilitated by it".

 

The matter adds to the recovery difficulties post incident. He is not facilitated by the environmental situation in Arizona. It is a delicate moment for Ferrari regardless. A win (or a good points-finish), would relaunch the team after three consecutive DNF’s. The eve of important decision is coming for the Maranello squad. The Scuderia Ferrari team principal, Cesare Florio, says that the affair related to John Barnard is coming to an end:

 

"We will take a decision during the weekend".

 

Florio emphasizes that the technical leader of the Scuderia should work at Maranello. It can be presumed that the English designer is destined to resign. That is unless, in a generosity burst, he accepts Scuderia Ferrari’s proposals.

 

"I am fairly calm regarding the future of the team and his asset. We have alternative solutions for all departments including the drivers. Their contract renewal is not tied to Barnard. Many valuable people offered to work for the team. I cannot say the names for privacy reasons and as a sign of respect to the other teams".

 

How will Scuderia Ferrari’s future look like?

 

"A man is needed. He will decide on the technical side of things, listen to the advice of his collaborators and form a group. We also want to create a school at Maranello. We made already many progress, such as in the electronics. We have started a positive trend together with Magneti Marelli by working with a good structure and method".

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Sunday 3rd June 1989. Ayrton Senna with his McLaren car takes the 34th pole position in his career. It is also his 8th consecutive one which a new absolute record in Formula 1. He is ahead of his teammate Alain Prost. The other drivers have an abyssal gap back to the McLaren duo. 3rd place goes to the tenacious Alessandro Nannini. The two Scuderia Ferrari drivers, Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger, are 4th and 8th respectively. It is not a positive qualifying session for the Maranello team but it should not change their race outcome. Fortune turns. It only remains to be seen when it is going to favour you. The McLaren car #1 of the reigning world champion is more likely to score yet another win. During Friday’s qualifying session, Ayrton Senna is progressively ahead of everyone. His time is 1.5 seconds faster than his McLaren teammate Alain Prost’s one and the rest of the group. Senna’s 1'30"710 time, set on Friday, is good enough to take a 34th career pole position. The Brazilian thus beats Jim Clark’s record of 33. Let’s not forget that he equalled it in Mexico.

 

During Saturday’s first free practice session, Prost has a spin that ultimately leads to a crash against the barrier. This incident causes damage to the chassis and the gearbox. This is the first chassis that Alain Prost breaks since joining the team in 1984. The French driver is thus forced to use Ayrton Senna’s spare car for the upcoming race on Sunday 4th June 1989. The only American driver on the grid, the Phoenix native Eddie Cheever, qualifies the Arrows-Ford in 17th position. He is 3.1 seconds slower than pole sitter Ayrton Senna. In the following hours, the Formula 1 world is hit by a controversy regarding the poor performance of the two Scuderia Ferrari cars. In addition, Alessandro Nannini is involved in a spectacular incident during the 30-minute warm-up session on Sunday morning.

 

The shunt is so violent that people fear for the worst. The Tuscan driver is luckily unscathed. After being admitted in a hospital, some ten kilometres away from the circuit, he is able to come back to the pits despite not being in perfect physical conditions. The doctors find that the Italian has a cervical muscular trauma, a heavy concussion on the right knee and lower back after the incident. He also had a whiplash during the incident. Alessandro Nannini thus reserves the right to take a last minute decision on taking the race start, despite having the green flag to do so from the doctors. He, who has the 3rd fastest time in qualifying behind Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, starts the day with the warm-up test. It is a session that the drivers use to verify the car set-up, make the final technical choices, run-in mechanical parts and tyres. They have the last chance to do general final checks before the race. Nannini tries to bring the car to the limit according to his style of driving. His car then goes off track at the corner that that leads to the pits. It is one of the most difficult sections of the track that requires many corrections due to the irregular floor.

 

"I did not have time to react. It was a sudden spin and I lost the car at full speed. I luckily hit the barrier with the rear of the car. It squished like it was made out of tin. The chassis held up really well. I only know that I had a terrible whiplash. I got out of breath and I was unable to break. I think that I remained inside the cockpit for a couple of minutes. The rescuers were very slow. They practically did not help me. I had to get out of the car on my own by trying to unzip my helmet even if my breath was getting more laboured. The doctors then came and brought me to the hospital via auto ambulance".

 

There is profound irritation inside the Scuderia Ferrari team. Tuttosport publishes a rumour coming from Italy. According to it, Gerhard Berger refused a three-years contract for a total of about 25.000.000.000 di lire. Cesare Florio, team principal of Scuderia Ferrari, emphasizes:

 

"We cannot understand why the journalists need to make these kind of speculations. The rumor is not true at all".
 

Ferrari will make its choices known in due course whilst its team leaders have such a determined reaction to the rumours. The reason behind this should be sought after. The newspaper did not report the real situation inside the team. Instead, the outlet published fake news. They presented the situation in a completely opposite way to reality. Ferrari emphasizes that it is not forced to bamboozle people with huge sums of money, despite the tough period. Let’s not forget that there has been talk of Ferrari offering a multi-million contract to a top driver for years. Furthermore, the Maranello adds that every decision will be taken in view of a recovery plan based on the team’s needs. The tense and nervous tense does not even spare Bernie Ecclestone. The President of the Constructors’ Association and vice president of the Fisa, elegant in his own way, wanders around the paddock.

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He talks with the team principals in order to know whether his proposals, to make for an even more harder fought and spectacular championship, might be accepted. These include: 17/18 races instead of 16 and a handicap for the winner of each round of the championship. They are met with criticism and refusal only. It is also true that Formula 1, when looking in the mirror, sees an image of itself that is still thriving and vibrant. At the same time though, certain symptoms should be underestimated. The monotony of the majority of the races can inflict, in the short term, a heavy blow on the fans’ presence in the circuits and, more importantly, on the television audience. It still maintains a good level thanks to the surprising Ferrari victory at Rio de Janeiro. However, Formula 1 should quickly find a solution to this. The proposed handicap for previous winners would not resolve the situation. It is necessary to find the equilibrium and the uncertainty in order to make the races more interesting.

 

In the meantime, let’s talk about Beppe Lucchini. He is a great and passionate motorsport and is trying to enact a strengthening plan for the Scuderia Italia team. So far, Alexi Caffi scored a 4th place finish at Monte-Carlo and some good qualifying performance from him and Andrea De Cesaris. After a lofty start to the season, the Lombardy team tries to climb the pecking order even more. The goal is to find a competitive engine (probably Lamborghini if it becomes reliable but there are other options as well), increase the number of staff and find a technician that works alongside constructor Paolo Dallara. The latter does not like coming to the race track. In this regard, Gustav Brunner could be a candidate to join the team even if there has been no direct contact yet. The Austrian designer was recently approached by someone to go to Ferrari.

 

News go by that a team, that just came back to in Formula 1, is about to change owner. Brabham could be purchased by the Swiss Lutiti. The team might have received consistent offers from the famous American team Penske. The latter is dominating in Formula Indy at those. These days, Teddy Mayer has been seen wandering around the Brabham garage. He is an owner of the McLaren team. The American businessman went back to the U.S. to go to Penske. Formula 1 will finally have an insertion of direct American interests if this partnership goes ahead as planned. Penske is a team that has the resources and potential to not only participate but to also win in Formula 1. Zakspeed, on the other hand, is seriously struggling despite having an elevate budget, that is estimated around 15 billions of lire. The chassis, designed by Brunher, would also be up to the task of scoring good results. However, the Yamaha V8 engines have been a disappointment so far. Thus, the team never get through the pre-qualifying sessions and might withdraw from Formula 1 in the short term.

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Sunday 4th June 1989. At the start of the United States Grand Prix, Alain Prost has a better getaway compared to his teammate Ayrton Senna. A few seconds later though, the French drivers hits a bump in the straight which lifts the rear tyres off the ground. The engine rev limiter cannot function properly as a result. This allows the Brazilian driver to re-take 1st position. Nevertheless, the gap between Ayrton Senna and Alain is only 0.45 seconds at the end of the 1st lap. Alessandro Nannini is 3rd ahead of Nigel Mansell, Alex Caffi, Stefano Modena, Martin Brundle, Gerhard Berger, Andrea de Cesaris and Michele Alboreto. Nannini’s neck lasts for only 10 laps after suffering an injury during the warm-up session. Nannini was 3rd before a spin, on lap 4, dropped him to 8th place. He is unable to continue after that mishap. He cannot keep his head straight and feels dizzy. The Italian comes back to the pits to retire.

 

After 16 laps, Ayrton Senna ekes out a 4.25 seconds advantage over Alain Prost. On lap 17, it suddenly doubles when Alain Prost’s engine start to overheat. He is thus forced to slow down for a couple of laps in order to bring the water and oil temperatures under control. Alain Prost remains hopeful of winning the race despite Ayrton Senna’s apparent dominance. The professor notices that his McLaren car is behaving better than his teammate’s one. He reflects on the fact that his only problem would be that he might get overtaken by his teammate later on in the race. In the meantime, on lap 20, Maurício Gugelmin receives the black flag for violating the FIA sporting regulation. During the pit stop, the Leyton House mechanics substituted the rear brake bleeding screw, after losing it in the process, and added brake liquid. Back to the front, the gap between the two McLaren drivers continues to change as they make their way through lapped traffic. On lap 29, Alain Prost is right behind Ayrton Senna’s gearbox. The Brazilian is suffering from a misfire.

 

The issue disappears momentarily and Senna is able to set the fastest lap. Immediately after, the problem comes back and it is worse than before. On lap 32, Nigel Mansell retires, for the fourth time out of 5 races, due to an alternator failure. On lap 34, Alain Prost is only a second behind Ayrton Senna. The latter signals his teammate to pass during the straight before diving in the pits at the end of the lap. The ignition electric system of the Honda engine continues to malfunction. Senna makes two pit stops in order to let the mechanics change the per control unit, battery and plugs. Despite doing successive fastest laps in the middle of the two stops, electronics issues continue to persist. Ayrton Senna is thus forced to retire on lap 44. The Brazilian inverted the tyres’ set-up compared to the Mexican Grand Prix. This time, he had the C Goodyear tyres on the left side and the B ones on the right. Thanks to this change, he felt perfectly able to control the pace out front. After stepping out of the cockpit, he tells this to his engineer Tyler Alexander, former Newman-Haas Racing:

 

"That was the easiest race I’ve ever led".

 

This is Ayrton Senna’s first absolute retirement since he joined McLaren at the start of the 1988 season. It is also his first DNF of the season. It is Honda V10’s first engine failure in racing condition which forces the Brazilian driver to give up the race. It is only the second time, out of 21 races with McLaren, that a Honda engine has a terminal issue. The first one was when Prost’s V6 turbo engine exploded halfway through the 1988 Italian Grand Prix. It was the only race that McLaren did not win during that particular season. Alex Caffi, who started in 6th position at the wheel of the Dallara-Ford that is equipped with Pirelli tyres, is now up to 2nd place thanks to Ayrton Senna’s DNF. He drops to 5th place after making a pit stop to change tyres. The Italian was previously overtaken by Gerhard Berger; whose palms are still sore from the Imola incident that occurred six weeks prior. Afterwards, Caffi is trying to overtake teammate Andrea de Cesaris. The latter makes a mistake that forces Caffi to go up against the protection barrier.

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Alex is out of the race. Andrea de Cesaris will simply say that he did not see his teammate. In addition, he would explain how he did not even know that he had forced Alex to hit the barrier as a result. Andrea de Cesaris continues his race and would be classified in 8th position. Nine laps later, Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari suffers from an alternator issue. In other word, there is no power inside the revolutionary semi-automatic transmission. The journalists try to interview the Austrian driver but his mechanics closes the garage door on them. Beforehand, the ESPN broadcaster reporter, John Bisignano, sees Gerhard Berger get splashed with water by his mechanics. Riccardo Patrese, Ivan Capelli and Eddie Cheever remain in close contact. This continues until Ivan Capelli is forced to retire due a gearbox issues on lap 21. Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever will hence continue the battle for a provisional 2nd place finish at the end of the 51st lap. Patrese is ahead of the Italian-American driver for the time being.

 

Eddie Cheever tries to fight Riccardo Patrese, until the last laps of the race, despite suffering from a fuel pump issue inside the Ford-Cosworth engine. That is until the front and rear brake suddenly collapse. He is still able to finish in 3rd place though. Stefan Johansson got his Onyx car through the pre-qualifying session. In addition, he is even able to be on the starting grid. The Swedish driver drives a consistent race. At one point, he is in 7th place which is one shy of the point-scoring top 6 positions. On lap 50, though, he is out of the race with suspension damage thanks to a previous puncture. The two-hours limit ends after 75 laps. As expected, the 83 laps are not completed. Alain Prost wins the United States Grand Prix for the first time. The McLaren driver never won in Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit and Dallas. He extends the all-time winning record to 36 and obtains his first victory at the wheel of an aspirated car. His only other season in a non-turbo Formula 1 was his first one with McLaren in 1980. The team, at the time, used the Cosworth DFV V8 engine.

 

Riccardo Patrese and technical director Patrick Head struggled throughout free-practice and qualifying in order to find the ideal race set-up. After starting in 14th position, the Italian Williams driver finishes in an impressive 2nd place. Eddie Cheever rounds up the podium in 3rd place. This is his 9th career podium in Formula 1. The Italian-American driver crosses the line with only the rear left brake functioning correctly. At the end of the race, he admits: “I knew I had a second place car here today, but that moment persuaded me it wasn’t worth throwing away an hour and fifty-five minutes of hard work”). Christian Danner intelligently benefits from other people’s retirements to finish behind Cheever. This 4th place finish is also Rial team’s best finish in Formula 1. It is curious to know that the team principals wanted to reduce the number of laps from 81 to 70 before the start of the race. The hot climate and the lap times, set during free-practice and qualifying, reveal that the numbers of expected laps would not be reached before the 2-hours mark.

 

This track has almost the same length as the Adelaide circuit in Australia. The forecast is that the time laps would have been around the 1'15"0-1'20"0 mark. The time that are set in qualifying are 10-15 seconds slower than expected. Ken Tyrrell is the only team principal to not sign the document that allows the FIA to reduce the race distance. As fate would have it, Jonathan Palmer loses a safe 4th place finish. The Tyrrell-Ford, one lap down on the leader, is out of fuel on lap 69 He could have finished 4th had Tyrell given his consent to finish the race on lap 70. The Tyrell driver instead finishes in 9th and last position. The French McLaren driver wins the Phoenix race and becomes the new championship leader. The drivers will race under a blazing sun. The temperature is exceeding 40o C degrees.

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The monotony of the McLaren dominance also continues in Arizona. The other drivers are only competing for the last step of the podium. Ayrton Senna seems to have an edge over his teammate. He extends his lead over Alain Prost lap after lap. Half an hour into the race, 8 seconds separates the top 2 on lap 10. Gerhard Berger is not seemingly fatigued and manages to hold his own against Riccardo Patrese and Capelli. Mansell, on lap 25, sets the best lap of the race. After five laps though, his Ferrari car is sadly pushed by the mechanics into the garage. The Brit gets out the Maranello car in an angry mood. The technicians change the battery and Mansell is able to continue the race. Within a matter of laps, he suffers a terminal gearbox issue. 2nd and 3rd gears are out of order and the Ferrari driver is forced to retire.

 

The turning point of the race occurs on lap 34. Ayrton Senna, after setting the new lap record, starts to have car issues. Chaos and panics set in motion inside his garage. Alain Prost catches up to the back of the sister car. The French driver then overtakes the Brazilian for the lead of the race. Senna then dives into the pits and the mechanics replace the electronic control unit and the battery. The Honda engine loses power and switches off.  Senna gets impatient in trying to restart it. After getting back on track, the McLaren driver is in 15th position and is very far away from Alain Prost. The Brazilian then has a problem with the engine candles and is forced to retire. On lap 41, Alain Prost has a great margin over 2nd placed Gerhard Berger. The latter is doing a comeback drive from 11th.

 

Riccardo Patrese is 3rd ahead of Eddie Cheever, Alex Caffi and Martin Brundle. Ten laps go by without a jolt. Then, to the dismay of the Ferrari fans, Gerhard Berger is overtaken by Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever. The Austrian is sadly driving back to the pits with a gearbox issue. Alex Caffi’s race is also over. The Scuderia Italia driver hits the wall after trying to lap teammate Andrea De Cesaris. It is a questionable manoeuvre by the latter. Alex, prior to the contact, was running in 5th place. The last laps of the race do not change the top-3 order. In the meantime, bad luck strikes Jonathan Palmer and Andrea De Cesaris. The British driver is out of the race due to an engine issue. Alain Prost wins the Arizona race. He finishes 39 seconds ahead of an impressive Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever. Christian Danner is 4th ahead of Johnny Herbert, Thierry Boutsen and Gabriele Tarquini. Only 7 cars are able to cross the finish line under the scorching Arizona heat whilst 9 are classified in the final standings. During the qualifying session, the gearbox connections on both Williams FW12C cars had produced all kinds of imaginable problem. The reason behind these issues are inexplicable.

 

"It is exactly as it was in Mexico".

 

Admits a perplexed Frank Williams. In Mexico, there were no issues though. The issue aggravated when the connection started to trick Riccardo Patrese and Thierry Boutsen. The duo selected the wrong gears. This then leads to the ratios breakdown on Friday. It then started to correctly function on Saturday despite the fact that the gears were not synchronized anymore. The two Williams drivers were thus forced to start from 14th and 16th position respectively. The cars were not well set-up during the warm-up session. Patrick Head thus proposed to the two driver some new solutions to solve this. As a result, the two Williams cars then showed great potential in the race. Riccardo Patrese started to recover some position and, benefitted from the misfortunes of others, scored a 2nd place finish. Thierry Boutsen, despite suffering a puncture which forced him to do a slow lap and make an unscheduled pit stop, finishes in 6th place.

 

There are important decisions, regarding the drivers and the technicians, to make down at Scuderia Ferrari. Another revolution is in the air. Gerhard Berger could leave the team at the end of the season and be replaced by an Italian driver. The race organizers also seek change. 100.000 people were expected to watch the race. 30.000 tickets have only been sold. Riccardo Patrese is happy for this second consecutive 2nd place finish. Eddie Cheever, homeland prophet, is ecstatic with 3rd place. This result relaunches him in the championship after going through a crisis period. Christian Danner, Johnny Herbert and Thierry Boutsen round up the top-6 that scores points. Apart from them, most of the drivers have some recriminations to make at the end of the race. Michele Alboreto also complains about the reliability issue that inflicted the Tyrell car during the race. The Italian suffered from a gearbox problem. Stefano Modena, Derek Warwick, Martin Brundle and Ivan Capelli disappointingly leave Arizona without reaping any rewards for their efforts.

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Not to mention that Scuderia Italia was close to score the most prestigious result of its history with Alex Caffi. That was until teammate Andrea De Cesaris, who was about to be lapped, slammed Alex into the barrier. Alain Prost is also not satisfied despite interrupting Ayrton Senna’s positive streak and becoming the new championship leader. The French driver makes it clear that he has no motivation to fight for the title, by reiterating the same old speech regarding about the favourable treatment that the Brazilian driver gets at McLaren. The interest of the Formula 1 paddock is all about Alain Prost though. The French driver, within a couple of weeks, will announce his future programme. These are the likely scenario: leave McLaren to join another team or retire in order to join Peugeot and collaborate for the development of a car for the Prototype championship. Alain Prost admits at the end of the United States Grand Prix:

 

"I always felt I had a good chance here. After Mexico I decided to play it safe with B tyres all round, and even before Ayrton began to run into trouble I felt I was in with a chance. I was sure my tyre combination would be an advantage late in the race".

 

In addition, The Professor wants to specify that today’s result will not change his opinion regarding McLaren and his eventual future destination.

 

"This result will not influence my decision in any way".

 

Prost’s movements indirectly involve Scuderia Ferrari as well. Gerhard Berger is amongst the driver who aspire for Alain’s McLaren seat. This is why the Austrian driver asks the Maranello team to have a couple of weeks to reflect and decide. If the Gerhard Berger case still needs to be deciphered, Scuderia Ferrari has decided on what to do with John Barnard and Nigel Mansell. The Maranello team should let us know which decisions they have taken within a few days or perhaps hours. It is rumoured that the British driver’s contract has been renewed whilst the engineers will leave the team.  Those are obviously only speculations that are based on certain considerations. Regarding Nigel Mansell, the explanation is simple: he can go back to William or end up in other teams. However, Scuderia Ferrari overall offers him more guarantees for the effort he is putting into racing.

 

The situation regarding the designer is different. Cesare Fiorio would like to keep him in the team because, beyond any consideration, he is one of the best designer in Formula 1. John Barnard would work at Maranello if there are any alternatives left. He can then become an important member of the Scuderia Ferrari team. This is the reason why it is easy to get a divorce. Cesare Fiorio, as usual, does not want to talk about this subject. However, it can be assumed that the set-up team may take this configuration, more or less, in the upcoming months. Nigel Mansell and a young Italian driver would be the line-up. Nicola Larini is an option in case that Gerhard Berger leaves the team. The team would also prefer to work with one of the best technicians in the world, either Sergio Rinland or Ross Brawn. They would be willing to work at Maranello and team up with the other Italian designers. Ferrari, regardless of this, should not only change the technical leadership. The Italian squad should also seek to strengthen the entire organisation chart as well. It is not excluded, then, that there is also movement among the team members that are currently in charge of track operations. It is overall another small revolution. Let’s hope that it is the definitive one.

 

At Phoenix, team Lotus celebrate his 400° Grand Prix in Formula 1. During the course of the race, Nelson Piquet was finally poised to take a couple of points for the British team. On lap 44, he was in 7th place. The abundance of objects, that were thrown on track by the American spectators, influenced the race for some drivers, including Nelson Piquet. A plastic bag wrapped around the front brake duck and then back inside the sidepods. The brakes’ temperature increased at an alarming rate and the Brazilian driver was forced to dive into the pits for an unscheduled stop. A set of C Goodyear tyres were put on Piquet’s car. Then, he went out on track and tried to close up on Johnny Herbert and Christian Danner. 5th place seemed within reach for the Brazilian driver and his Lotus. However, a spin put an end on the team’s hope on finishing in the points. Lotus is struggling financially after splitting up with Camel. The reason behind the divorce is Piquet. He decided to not take part in a publicity stunt with the sponsor’s team management on Friday evening. He probably was sleeping whilst the management was trying to get in touch with him via reception. Nelson Piquet, in the end, hit the barrier at turn 13 as a result of the spin. Piquet was then forced to retire due to a broken suspension.

 

Arianna Mezzanotte

 

Translated by Ylenia Lucia Salerno

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