Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content

1989: Senna trounces Prost in Monaco


There's a toy shop on the Boulevard des Moulins in Monaco where you can buy your Barbie doll a Ferrari with which to impress Action Man. "There are a number of mechanical devices which increase sexual arousal, particularly in women," wrote PJ O'Rourke on this subject, "chief among these is the Mercedes-Benz 380SL convertible."
In Monaco, everyone has a fancy car at Grand Prix time (dare I suggest they don't normally?). The Ferraris are almost as common as the people driving them. Sigmund Freud would tell you it's all to do with sex. That may be, for the Monaco GP has little to do with racing cars. These are the optional extras of the weekend, the noisy fag packets on wheels which intrude on the festival of public preening. They make too much noise and cause all the traffic jams.

Monaco is for the gold-dribbling rich on their "botes", each one stuffed to the gunwhales with Barbie dolls.

Does it matter that the gentlemen look like extras from The Long Good Friday? Of course not, people are looking-that is all that counts.

Despite all this, you cannot help but like Monaco. It's a beautiful spot, nestling under the corniche. It's a madhouse; but for one weekend a year it doesn't do any harm. It reminds you, lest you had lost sight of it, that all GP drivers really are basket-cases. You forget how impressive it is when they thread their way through the streets.

Qualifying is infinitely more important here than at any other track. Start at the back of the grid and you might as well go home.

For some of the pre-qualifying teams, the grid is still a very long way away, but they were out at 8am on Thursday, ready for their 60 minutes of make-or-break.

"Where are you watching pre-qualifying from?" someone asked a more cynical member of the press corps. "Nice," he replied. There were times when that seemed like a good idea. Young drivers, close barriers, 'green' track, take cover.

To begin with it was business as usual - Joachim Winkelhock was soon jogging into the pits, looking for a spare AGS. Nicola Larini, Alex Caffi and the Brabhams of Stefano Modena and Martin Brundle seemed in control. Enter former Monaco F3 winner, Pierre-Henri Raphanel in the Coloni.

After half-an-hour he was topping the timesheets. It didn't last long. Modena, Caffi, Larini, Stefan Johansson, Piercarlo Ghinzani, the all-important top four slots were passing between the drivers quicker than money passes to the croupiers in the Casino.

"It is completely casino," said Nicola Larini later. "My car was perfect, but I could never get a clear lap." The man who ran comfortably in the top six at Imola was out for the weekend. That didn't happen until the closing minutes when it was time to step back from the barriers as a totally crossed-up and out-of-control Zakspeed came straight at you.

Modena was in, cool as ever: "I'm always very lucky in pre-qualifying;" Caffi was in: "I sleep very good, last night;" Raphanel was in: "I like street tracks;" Brundle was in - by the skin of his teeth - "That was too close!"

Ghinzani was out - by 0.026 second - and the Osella team was unhappy. With Gerhard Berger not starting, Osella argued, five pre-qualifiers should go forward. That was what had happened in Brazil. FISA reached for a yellow book and decided that, yes, it had happened in Brazil, but actually that had been a mistake. Osella would have to pack up.

The same was happening at Onyx, and at Zakspeed, and with the cars of Gregor Foitek and Volker Weidler. "Not enough time," said Gregor. "There is no more in the car," said Volker, "and no more in me..." That was it. Over and out.

Soon the trees overhanging the track were twitching as the main field came out. Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell. It seemed a fairly ordinary sort of session. Was there significance in Prost being faster than Senna? There had been that falling-out at Imola.

Ron Dennis explained it away at a press conference. Yes, there had been an agreement between the drivers. Yes Senna had broken it, but he had apologised. The problem was now resolved. "Our aim is always to win," said Dennis, "but we like to have fun, like to enjoy it."

Metaphorically-speaking, a crowd of 50 pressmen fell over in surprise. What? McLaren having fun? Methinks Ron will regret that remark...

Down at the McLaren temporary ground-based facility, it seemed a little tense. "I no longer wish to have anything to do with him," Alain told a French paper when discussing Ayrton Senna. "He has not been honest."

It actually didn't seem to matter whether the drivers were interfacing well. They continue to dominate. In the morning it was Prost-Senna, in the afternoon, Senna-Prost. The same happened on Saturday.

Ultimately, this rivalry resulted in Senna producing the quickest lap ever at Monte Carlo (turbo or otherwise). Even then he complained of a slight mistake in Casino Square. "I am happy." he shrugged, "It's important to be on the pole." Being on the pole is fine and dandy, but did he have to do it by such a huge 1.14 seconds margin?

Alain had problems with traffic on his quick lap, but generally speaking, everyone at Ron's Fun Factory was happy to have monopolised the front row-again.

After the topsy-turvy days of qualifying at Imola, there was a little more stability to the timesheets in Monaco. Although the occasional wild card came flying in and out. The honour of being top of the line to chase the McLarens was disputed by Nigel Mansell, Thierry Boutsen and Derek Warwick on Thursday. By Saturday Martin Brundle had joined the hunters. The final scrabble had all four of them covered by just 0.459 second, led by the Belgian.

Having struggled for traction on Friday things improved on Saturday, although Thierry felt he could have gone quicker if his Renault engine hadn't been losing power. Team-mate Riccardo Patrese was having less good fortune. Thursday was a mish-mash of gearbox and clutch problems which kept his track-time to a minimum. Things were scarcely better on Saturday (gearbox again) but Riccardo took seventh spot.

Alongside Thierry on the grid would be Martin Brundle's Brabham, yes, the very same car that had squeezed through pre-qualifying by the merest fraction. Eighth after the first qualifying session Martin, who didn't look at all well on Thursday, reckoned he knew where to find a second - and on Saturday he found two, courtesy of some good new Pirellis, a tweak or two and better health. Fourth on the grid and the fastest V8 qualifier was a fine achievement, even if it was done rather dramatically. The final session began with a thump at Casino Square and a spin at the Swimming Pool.

"I came in to get my head straightened out," explained Martin, "and then I went out and nailed it. Did a good job, I think." Stefano Modena was right in the hunt as well, although gearbox problems on Thursday restricted him to 12th. On Saturday, things were better. "The car is fantastic to drive," he explained. "Very good set-up. I didn't do many laps because on my eighth lap I touched the barrier at Ste Devote and got a puncture." Stefano ran back for the T car, did one lap then its engine blew up. The result was still eighth on the grid.

Heading the third row was Nigel Mansell driving the singleton Ferrari. I'm having to do a lot of work without Gerhard," he explained, "but you can see from the straightline speeds, we just haven't got the same power as Honda. At least we're not 2 seconds off the pace like at lmola."

Ultimately, of course, with Senna's quick lap, Nigel was 2 seconds off the pole, but Saturday was not a good day; Nigel suffering from a cold and a set-up problem.

Friday morning had also seen a curious incident which was not fully explained when the Ferrari touched the barriers on the way downhill from Casino Square. The team explained that the incident had occurred when Nigel ran over a kerb. Eyewitnesses said it was a suspension collapse. Fleet Street reckoned it was life-threatening!

If Nigel was having troubles, Derek Warwick was delighted to be the third British driver in the top six in his Arrows. He had held the same position on Thursday but had been beside himself about the traffic. "It's unreal," he said, "I know it's the same for everyone, but 50% of the drivers are oblivious to their mirrors." Saturday might have been considerably better had the team not decided to go for the quick lap early on. It was a calculated risk. If someone had dropped some oil, Derek would profit, as it turned out, he missed out when the track was at its quickest.

Eddie Cheever, as has become the norm recently, was less happy. Thursday had seen him struggling for a nice balance. Things were better by Saturday morning, despite an armful of mechanical troubles. In the afternoon he discovered that putting qualifiers on the car didn't seem to make any difference. His best time was set with old race tyres and it was 20th on the grid.

Throughout the four sessions, the tail-end of the top 10 was something of a moveable feast. On Friday morning we had Gabriele Tarquini's AGS and Sandro Nannini's Benetton; in the afternoon Philippe Alliot's Lola-Lamborghini and Olivier Grouillard's Ligier. By Saturday morning Pierluigi Martini had the Minardi hanging in there, while the afternoon went to the two BMS Dallaras - Alex Caffi once again showing Andrea de Cesaris the way. Away in a distant underground car park to which the 'back of the grid' teams are exiled, there was champagne flowing from the Scuderia Italia zone. No complaints.

Martini ultimately ended up 11th on the grid and was happy with the result, a little too much understeer but still an old car. At the other end of the scale Luis Sala made the grid by the skin of his teeth. "The car is dangerous. There is so much oversteer," he explained on Thursday. On Saturday he was shaking his head, but on the grid.

Alongside Martini on the grid would be the brand new Tyrrell 018 of Michele Alboreto. The car had been finished very late and rushed to Monaco, but it did not arrive until late on Thursday, so Michele quite simply did not drive.

Once the new car arrived he was quickly in the groove. The car would need more testing, but it had tremendous potential, was very sophisticated aerodynamically. Twelfth on the grid, straight out of the box, was pretty impressive.

Jonathan Palmer was not really impressed all weekend. His car had severe understeer and he was having trouble fixing it. JP's biggest problem, however, was traffic. "I knew every lap before I started it that I would be held up. I've never had such a problem." The result? Twenty-third on the grid.

Gabriele Tarquini was disappointed to be 13th on the grid in the AGS. Yes, you read that correctly. Having been fifth on Thursday, he had a right to such aspirations. "I like Monaco very much," he said, doing a fine impersonation of a Cheshire cat, "the car is perfect." On Saturday, the team decided to make some improvements in setting and Gabriele duly went backwards. A mighty performance nonetheless.

Sharing the seventh row with Gabriele was Mauricio Gugelmin in the new Leyton House March CG891. "The new car is nothing like the 881," explained the Brazilian, "potentially it is very good, but we had to throw away all our old notes." Things improved with the weekend, but traffic put paid to any major leap forward on the grid.

If Gugelmin was suffering, Ivan Capelli was in all kinds of trouble, in 22nd place on the grid, having been stuck out on the track when his CG891 suffered electrical trouble. He ran back to take over one of the 881 spares, but the settings were up the creek.

As March suffered, so too did Benetton, but there was no new car yet to explain this away. This was a major set-up problem, with understeer and wheelspin. Improvement finally came on Saturday, but then traffic intervened.

Despite this catalogue of woes, Nannini seemed quite chirpy. "It'll be okay for the race," he explained, "we are good on full tanks." Johnny Herbert's problems were similar to those of his team mate and 24th on the grid was the result.

Ligier had two cars in the race for the first time this year, although Olivier Grouillard was not as high up the grid as he might have been. Saturday afternoon was spoiled when he slowed suddenly out of Rascasse (looking for a clear lap) and Christian Danner, caught unawares behind him, ran into the Ligier's gearbox. Rene Arnoux made the cut too, in 21st.

If you are wondering what on earth was going on at Lotus, you must wait a while, for first we must deal with Lola and Coloni. The Lola-Lamborghini has obviously benefited from its testing. Philippe Alliot had a good Thursday, 11th in the morning, ninth in the afternoon. By Saturday, the team's extra tweaks had sent him plummeting down the timesheets: 19th in the morning, 17th in the afternoon. "When you don't really know the car," he explained, "Monaco is not the place to try and sort it out."

Yannick Dalmas had an even worse time, missing the cut. his search for a decent balance was fruitless and when a couple of drive-pegs sheared on Saturday afternoon, he was out. The team doesn't yet have a spare car. Coloni has been concentrating on its new car project but the old cars sufficed - just.

Pierre-Henri Raphanel was in the better of the two once again and, although his was an adventurous time, he made the grid with ease. He lost a gearbox at the end of pre-qualifying and, asking too much from the car, bashed the barriers here and there. Rebuilt by Saturday, Pierre-Henri had a couple more near-misses, including a wheel-over-wheel accident with Alliot at Ste Devote. The car clonked the guardrail again, but P-HR drove it back to the pits, had it fixed up and went for it again. "After one quick lap, I figured it was too dangerous to continue," he explained. A sensible decision.

Roberto Moreno was relaxed about his situation. His car was not a patch on Raphanel's but he squeezed it into 25th spot.

If both the lemon-yellow Colonis made it, the canary Lotus-Judds did not. Nelson Piquet was 21st on Thursday afternoon suffering chronic understeer and 19th on Saturday was the best he could get. Satoru Nakajima went from 16th to 29th and failed to qualify, traffic and understeer ending his participation in the event.

The final non-qualifier come Saturday was Christian Danner in the Rial. Once again he was in the top 26 in all three sessions before the vital last one, during which he had all manner of adventures. "I lost track of the number of times I hit the barriers," he said dejectedly. "I was driving like an idiot, but you have to do that here." After hitting Grouillard, he switched to the spare and bent the front suspension on the barriers."

Overall, then, the same old story, McLaren having all the fun, even if the drivers weren't entirely seeing eye to eye...

A couple of days before the race Rene Arnoux was interviewed in a French newspaper, and after reading it you felt more than a twinge of sympathy for him. He had missed qualifying in the first two races, and in the opening session for Monaco also failed to make the cut.

The new normally-aspirated cars, he said, were giving him acclimatisation problems. He was 3 seconds slower than team mate Olivier Grouillard, and where he was going to find them on Saturday he really didn't know.

Sadly - for the Monaco Grand Prix and most of the other drivers, that is - he did find them. For the first time this year he was into a race, and why, his fellows moaned, why did it have to be here, where overtaking is in any case almost impossible?

Hard to believe now, but time was when Rene Arnoux was a charger, a serious Grand Prix driver. In 1982 he ran away and hid in the early stages of the Monaco Grand Prix - until he dropped it. And many times he won races on pure blinding pace, both for Renault and Ferrari. True, his manners - on track and off - were always lamentable, but, well, he was a front runner, wasn't he. And front runners get away with things.

Everything now appears to have changed - save his prehensile disregard for anyone else on the circuit. And on Sunday he personally made a farce of much of the Monaco Grand Prix. He was officially reprimanded by FISA stewards after the race. It wasn't enough. The No 25 Ligier should have been black-flagged long before the 77 laps were through.

The first start was aborted when Warwick urgently waved his arms, indicating he had stalled. That meant a delay of 5 minutes before the green flag, and another formation lap. Unhappily for Williams, Patrese's car refused to fire up when required, which meant he left late, and would start from the back. Gugelmin, after last-minute gearbox problems with the new March 891, had to hop into the older T-car, leave from pit lane.

This is, of course, the most vital Grand Prix start of the year, and Prost had his hopes of beating Senna into Ste Devote. But Ayrton made no mistake. Up the hill screamed the two McLaren-Hondas, chased by Boutsen, Mansell, Brundle, Warwick, de Cesaris and Modena. And by the end of the first lap Senna was more than a second to the good.

Warwick's race ended at Portiers on lap 3: "There was an electrical short somewhere," he shrugged. "Smoke started pouring out of the dashboard, and then the engine cut completely..." As the Arrows suddenly lost drive, it was very nearly collected by de Cesaris's Dallara, but contact was somehow avoided. Derek's Monaco race had promised so much.

Had Senna a problem? After three laps he looked to be disappearing into a race of his own, but after four Prost was much closer, after five right on his team mate's tail. And Ayrton, it seemed, was holding Alain up, for Boutsen, Mansell and Brundle began perceptibly to gain on both the McLarens. Maybe there was a race here, after all.

"No," Senna said later, "I had no problem - at that stage, anyway. I just didn't want to push too hard too soon." That we didn't know at the time, of course, and neither did they in the Williams, Ferrari and Brabham pits, where people began cautiously to hope. A five car lead train seemed to be emerging.

Perhaps, in time. Senna will become a little less committed in traffic, a little less willing to go for diminishing gaps. Most drivers change with the years. For the moment, though, Ayrton has no equal in the art of making room for himself. And when the McLarens began to get into lapping backmarkers, the gap between them started to grow. Gugelmin alone delayed Prost by more than 2 seconds, and Alain had been as close to the lead as he was to get.

Two seconds, though, you can perhaps make up. But now M Arnoux took a hand for the first time. Until then his race had been relatively quiet - a touch with Capelli on the first lap, that sort of thing. Mainly, he had been concentrating his efforts on holding up a bunch behind, comprising Raphanel, a disinterested Piquet, Herbert and Palmer. It now fell to the leaders to get through somehow.

Senna did it. Perhaps he got the better breaks; perhaps he made more opportunities for himself - perhaps even Arnoux gets nervous when he sees that yellow helmet in his mirrors. Whatever, Ayrton got through with relatively little time lost, but Prost - who goes back a long way with Arnoux - did not. On lap 19 the McLarens were 3.3 seconds apart; on lap 24 the gap was out to 15.1...

Alain never deludes himself; "Ayrton is more aggressive than me in traffic. That's the biggest problem I have - and it was the same last year. I think maybe I am driving quicker this year than last, but I'm not aggressive enough, and I have to do something about that.

"I'm not making excuses, but one thing I would say is that it upsets me you can maybe win or lose a race because of a guy like Arnoux, who just blocks all the time, I don't ever like to complain about specific people, but we had to lap him three or four times today, and it cost me 10 seconds to get by him once! Unbelievable..."

That killed the race, really. On lap 19 Boutsen lost third place with a pit stop to change his rear wing, part of which was breaking up. An identical problem had delayed Patrese's charge a few laps earlier. Ironically, both cars otherwise ran as good as trouble-free to the flag.

Having broken up the fight between the McLarens, Arnoux next bent himself to the task of delaying Mansell and Brundle, both of whom were within sinking distance of the lead. And the pattern was maintained down the field throughout the race: always there was something looking to climb over the Ligier.

The Italian contingent began heading back to the border at the completion of lap 31, for Brundle's Brabham came through in third place, and of the Ferrari there was no sign.

"It was the gearchange," Nigel said. "For a while it had been getting slower and slower, and then I kept finding myself in neutral. Like that, I obviously wasn't going to keep Martin back indefinitely..." The problem, he added, was electronic rather than mechanical.

Brundle was into the best race of his Formula 1 career. "I tell you," he said, "the car was fantastic - that's the only word for it. I was really enjoying myself."

Still, he was nearly half a minute behind Prost, so third looked to be as high as he was going. But the position had changed somewhat by the end of lap35: now he was but 10 seconds back of the McLaren, and Alain had dropped 20 to Senna. A spin, surely?

Not a bit of it. This was Monaco, where strange things happen. At the Loews hairpin de Cesaris and Piquet had collided, coming to a halt with their wheels interlocked. And before you jump to admittedly justifiable conclusions, this was not Andrea's fault.

The unpredictable Italian had, in fact, been driving a superb race, as we lave seen from him at Monte Carlo in he past. He had the Dallara up into fourth place, and tried to lap Piquet at the exit of the hairpin. Nelson said he hadn't expected him to try it there; the Lotus stuck to its line.

For a while the track was virtually blocked, and one of those queuing was A Prost. "I was amazed," he said. "That's the first time in my whole career I've actually had to come to a stop. I put the lever into neutral, and waited for a way through! A complete joke, but that's Monaco. I was almost laughing in the car - it was absolutely ridiculous. Then, when there was room to go through, I couldn't get back into gear..."

In the aftermath of all this. Piquet's damaged Lotus was retired, and de Cesaris went to the pits for bodywork repairs, later coming out again to drive as vigorously as before.

More than half a minute adrift of Senna now, Prost had no alternative but to settle for second. Had he known what was going on in Senna's cockpit, he might have got the hammer down. But he didn't.

Aryton: "First gear started to jump out. I'd had a problem during Thursday morning, fortunately, so I'd had a bit of practice in coping with it. I started using second for the hairpins, which wasn't too bad - but a few laps later, second gear broke altogether.

"Big problem now! I had to keep Alain from knowing I was in trouble, so he wouldn't push. And for three laps I worked on it. What I had to do was go very close to the barriers in the slow corners, keeping the revs up, sliding a little bit... Wasn't easy to lap slow cars, either, because I was losing on acceleration, having no second gear."

Prost shrugged it off afterwards: "Apart from my problems with traffic and jams (!), I was in good shape. My car was fine, and I could probably have run 2 or 3 seconds a lap quicker. But I had no idea Ayrton was in trouble."

De Cesaris's contretemps elevated Modena a place, which gave us two Brabhams in the top four. Then came the remarkably composed and impressive Tarquini, whose AGS had fought long and hard with Caffi's Dallara. These were two more to be ludicrously held up by the resolute Arnoux, which allowed Alboreto's Tyrrell to close on them.

Michele actually lapped team mate Palmer at this point, which says everything about the Monaco Grand Prix, for Jonathan was easily able to stay with the Italian. He was a lap down on him because he'd been trapped for so long behind the Arnoux/Piquet combo in the first part of the race.

Oh, and at this time, too, Herbert came in for a new right front wing for the Benetton. It had been removed by... Arnoux.

Tarquini's fine drive ended with engine failure on lap 47, but sadder still was the stricken sound of Brundle's Brabham. Spark box? No, flat battery. Martin pitted, had to climb from the car while the battery was changed, then rejoined in 10th place. By the end he was up to sixth, his fastest lap beaten only by Alain Prost.

"I don't know how I feel," he said. "On the one hand, I was really competitive in a Grand Prix, which was great. But on the other, I feel so frustrated with the battery thing. I really think otherwise I could have been second." His misfortune put team mate Modena up to third.

The late stages were largely stalemate. Senna and Prost ticking off the laps yet again. Modena and Caffi were secure in third and fourth, with Alboreto fifth and Capelli sixth. But there was a little more smoke from Ivan's March every time around, and on his last lap the engine let go, which brought Brundle deservedly into the points.

Easy for the McLarens again, then, but most of the serious opposition took care of itself. The Williams-Renaults screamed healthily round to the end, but to no purpose, having lost time in the early going. The Ferrari gearbox took care of Mansell, and that flat battery accounted for Brundle. Warwick never even got into the game.

An odd race, really. Such technical problems as McLaren-Honda had were Senna's; all the others Prost's. Even so, they were unstoppable again. The illusion of comradeship may have been blown for good, but still these two constitute the strongest partnership in Formula 1 history. Next comes Mexico, where Prost dusted his team mate last year. Three second places from three races would delight most Grand Prix drivers, but three races without a win are enough to make a Prost feel edgy. He needs one soon, just as Mr Arnoux needs a new job. Out of Formula 1.

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article 1988: Senna clinches first title
Next article 1989: Last lap collision decides Indy 500

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content