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Racing With Ayrton Senna: 1990 Japanese Grand Prix

Frozen in Time: 1990 Japanese Grand Prix

What

Japanese Grand Prix

Where

Suzuka, Japan

When

October, 1990

“Unfortunately, we touched in the first corner, when we were fighting for the lead, and we both went off.”

–Ayrton Senna to a reporter, while walking back to the pits

Race Brief

And so it was that once again, the F1 circus looked towards Suzuka for its new world champion. The stakes were high, though the roles were a little reversed. This time, Alain Prost, now racing for Ferrari, needed to win two races to take the title. All Ayrton Senna, his archrival, needed was for Prost to not finish the race in Japan.

As always, qualifying day ended with Senna scoring a perfect lap – a masterful 1m 36.99s lap. He was untouchable. But the pole position turned out to be almost useless, at least in Senna’s eyes. The starting position was on the dirty side of the track, and the FISA and Jean-Marie Balestre refused to change the side of the pole.

It was an angry, yet determined and focused Senna that got into the shiny McLaren MP4/5B. The race started and as expected, Prost shot off in the front from the get-go. Senna followed closely behind, taking an inside line, driving straight. Prost started turning into the corner, but Senna did not give way.

Screengrab from coverage of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka (editorial use only)

Screengrab from coverage of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka (editorial use only)

The two maestros collided in a violent cloud of dust. The race was over for Senna and Prost.

Gerhard Berger took over the lead as Senna and Prost walked back to the pits. The Austrian spun off on the second lap. Nigel Mansell running the Ferrari behind him took over the lead, but retired with transmission issues after 26 laps.

It was Benetton-Ford’s Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno who took the first and second place, with Aguri Suzuki finished third, becoming the first Japanese driver to get a podium finish.

Reporter: How do you feel about being world champion?

Ayrton Senna (smiles): It’s not a bad feeling at all, is it?

— Ayrton Senna answering reporters’ questions as he walked back to the garage during the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix

But the fight for the championship was over. Ayrton Senna was crowned king for 1990.

Ayrton Senna after the collision at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka (Screengrab of tv coverage, editorial use only)

Ayrton Senna after the collision at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka (Screengrab of tv coverage, editorial use only)

The Ayrton Moment

Ayrton Senna still bore a sense of extreme injustice at the events of Suzuka 1989. It was a combination of the previous year’s disqualification, loss of the championship and later the ban and the fine.

In 1990, the controversy over the starting position for the pole-sitter just made matters worse.

1990 was not that perfect championship win, colored by the Suzuka race, which was fraught with anger, shock and controversy. But the Brazilian felt a sense of justice being served.

He is quoted in Formula1.com as saying in 1991: “In ’89 I was robbed badly by the system – and that I will never forget… But in 1990 it went the other way. It was a sad championship in 1990, but that was a result of the politics that we had in 1989 and 1990.”

No matter what, here was a different side to the passionate, supremely talented race car driver. It was one that was ruthless, almost brutal. It was about winning no matter what the cost.

“When there is a gap, you either commit yourself as a professional racing driver that is designed to win races, or you come 2nd, or you come 3rd, or you come 5th. And I’m not designed to come 3rd, 4th, or 5th. I race to win. And if you no longer go for the gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.”

— Ayrton Senna to Sir Jackie Stewart defending himself in a 1991 interview

NEXT: 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix

PREVIOUS: 1989 Japanese Grand Prix

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1 Response

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