1989 United States Grand Prix
|Race 5 of 16 in the 1989 Formula One season|
|Date||June 4, 1989|
|Official name||XXVI Iceberg United States Grand Prix|
|Location||Phoenix street circuit
|Course||Temporary Street Course
3.800 km (2.361 mi)
|Distance||75 laps, 285.00 km (177.075 mi)|
|Weather||Hot, sunny, 97°F |
|Time||1:33.969 on lap 38|
1988 would be the last time Formula 1 raced at the Detroit circuit, with choices for a new location for the United States Grand Prix coming down to the Laguna Seca Raceway, in California, or a street circuit in Phoenix, Arizona. Although the drivers themselves preferred Laguna Seca, it was thought to be too small for an F1 crowd and too remote, and Phoenix was said to be too hot in June. Phoenix it would be, however, with the course running through a massively redeveloped downtown area.
The drivers had long complained about the problems with racing on a temporary track in Detroit, and anticipated similar prospects in the new city. Unlike Detroit, however, the organizers managed to get the course ready and start the first sessions on time.
On the Thursday before qualifying, Formula Atlantic, the support category for the weekend, had the first practice session on the new track before the Formula One cars hit the circuit for pre-qualifying at 8 o'clock on Friday morning. The Atlantic session saw a couple of problems. A manhole cover was lifted and the track surface at turn 10 at the end of the back straight (Washington Street) had begun to break up in the same way Detroit and Dallas had done in the past. Overnight, quick-dry cement was used to patch up the broken surface and while dusty and bumpy, the cement held for the remainder of the weekend.
During the morning practice on Saturday, Prost spun backward into a wall and damaged the monocoque and gearbox. It was the first monocoque Prost had broken since joining the team in 1984. Senna's Friday time of 1:30.710 stood up through the second session and gave him his 34th career pole position, breaking Jim Clark's record of 33 which he had equalled in the previous race in Mexico.
A small crowd of 31,441 turned out for the race on Sunday in 100-degree heat. Alessandro Nannini crashed his Benetton heavily in the morning warm-up session and would be forced to start the race not only in the spare car but also wearing a neck brace due to a very sore neck. Prost got a jump on Senna at the start, but hit a bump in the straight, causing his wheels to spin and the engine to be cut momentarily by the rev limiter allowing Senna to pull ahead, but by the end of the first lap his lead was only 0.45 seconds. A brave but very sore Nannini ran third followed by Nigel Mansell, Alex Caffi, Stefano Modena, Martin Brundle, Gerhard Berger, Andrea de Cesaris and Michele Alboreto.
After his warm-up crash, Nannini's neck could only take 10 laps of racing before he pulled into the pits to retire. He had been third until a spin on lap four dropped him to eighth and retired after not being able to hold his head up properly and complaining of dizziness. After 16 laps, Senna's lead over Prost was 4.25 seconds. He suddenly doubled that on the next lap when Prost's engine began overheating, forcing the Frenchman to back off for a few laps in a bid to get the water and oil temperatures back to normal. Despite Senna's seemingly commanding position, Prost remained confident of winning as he had seen that his McLaren was handling better than his team mates. He reasoned that later in the race his only problem would be getting past.
The gap between the two McLarens varied as they worked their way through traffic, but on lap 29, Prost closed the gap when Senna suffered a misfire. The problem disappeared momentarily, with Senna doing his fastest lap of the race, but then returned, worse than before. On lap 34, with Prost only one second back, Senna waved his team mate past and then pitted.
After two pit stops to change black box, battery and plugs, and with successive fastest laps in between, Senna retired on lap 44. It was his first retirement ever because of a Honda engine failure and the first failure of their V10 engine under race conditions. It was also only the second time in 21 races with McLaren that a Honda engine had failed, the first being when Prost's V6 turbo had blown up halfway through the 1988 Italian Grand Prix, the only race of the 1988 season that McLaren did not win.
Alex Caffi, who had started in sixth in his Pirelli shod Dallara-Ford, was up to second with Senna's retirement. A stop for new tires, after being passed by Berger (who's palms were still raw and sore from his Imola crash only six weeks before), dropped him back two more spots to fifth. As he tried to re-lap his team mate de Cesaris however, Andrea turned in and though the two didn't touch, Caffi was forced into the wall and out of the race. de Cesaris, having further enhanced his reputation, at the expense of his team mate no less, continued on to an 8th place finish and no points for the team when it seemed assured that Caffi would at least finish 4th after Berger's Ferrari suffered alternator failure (meaning no power to the revolutionary semi-automatic transmission) just 9 laps after Caffi's retirement. After the race de Cesaris confirmed the general view that he had "Tunnel vision" when he claimed that he simply did not see Caffi and did not even know about putting him into the wall until after the race.
Throughout the race, Riccardo Patrese, Ivan Capelli and Eddie Cheever had been in close contact. When Capelli retired on lap 21 with a gearbox failure, Patrese and Cheever carried on the battle alone. After lap 51, the fight was for second place, with Patrese ahead. Despite a fuel pickup problem with his engine, Cheever mounted a challenge in the waning laps until his front brakes and one rear brake failed!! The American and Phoenix native was as thrilled as the crowd with his podium finish.
As was predicted, the two-hour time limit was reached after 75 of the scheduled 81 laps, and Prost coasted to his only United States win (after not having won at Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit or Dallas), and increased his then all-time record victory total to 36 and his first win in a naturally aspirated car (his only other season in F1 without turbo power had been his rookie season with McLaren in 1980 when the team used the Cosworth DFV V8 engine). He also took the lead, by two points over Senna, in the Driver's Championship which he eventually won. Patrese's runner-up placing was his second in a row. After struggling through practice, qualifying and warm up, and starting from 14th spot, Patrese and technical director Patrick Head had guessed at a setup and finally got it right for the race. Eddie Cheever's third place was the ninth and last podium finish of his F1 career and continued to confirm the theory that he was a better racer than qualifier. Christian Danner's fourth place for Rial was his best career finish and matched the best ever finish for the team. Danner's place had more to do with his Rial still running where others had failed to finish rather than any outright pace.
Ironically, before the race there was a push to reduce the number of race laps from 81 to 70 due to the expected hot weather and after practice times had revealed the race would hit the two hour mark well before the scheduled number of laps had been reached (with the track almost the same length as the Adelaide Street Circuit used for the Australian Grand Prix, the prediction was that laps times would be around the 1:15 to 1:20 mark. Qualifying times however had been some 10-15 seconds slower than predicted). This move was quashed when Ken Tyrrell was the only team boss who refused to sign the document which would have allowed this to happen. He would regret this move later as Jonathan Palmer lost a certain 4th place when his Tyrrell-Ford ran out of fuel on lap 69. Had the race been flagged after 70 laps, Palmer would have finished 4th having already been lapped by Prost instead of running out of fuel and being classified as 9th and last.
|7||33||Gregor Foitek||Euro Brun-Judd||1:35.805||+3.512|
|13||22||Andrea de Cesaris||Dallara-Ford||1:33.061||1:32.649||+2.541|
Standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
1989 Mexican Grand Prix
|FIA Formula One World Championship
1989 Canadian Grand Prix
1980 United States Grand Prix
|United States Grand Prix||Next race:
1990 United States Grand Prix
- Rob Walker (September, 1989). "United States Grand Prix at Phoenix: Just Desert". Road & Track, 82-85.