Belgian Grand Prix – 1989

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The 4.3-mile long (about 7 km) Spa-Francorchamps circuit, is the longest – as well as one of the most challenging and charming –in F1. The track is located in the Ardenas region, a place full of mountains and forests, where the rain is almost a local tradition.

Ayrton Senna won at Spa for the first time in 1985, as a Lotus driver. It was just his second victory in F1, after a race that had started with a wet track that gradually became drier. His second triumph came in 1988, this time leading from start to finish on a dry track.

In 1989, there were echoes of what had happened four years earlier, since the race would be taking place on a wet track. The difference was that Ayrton Senna was one of the favorites, along with Alain Prost, his McLaren teammate and rival.

On Saturday, when all drivers had the chance to drive on a dry track, Ayrton secured the pole position with a time of 1min50s867, 0s596 quicker than the Frenchman, who would be starting in second place. The second row had Ferrari’s Gerhard Berger in third, and Thierry Boutsen in fourth – it was a particularly meaningful race for the Williams driver, because not only he would be driving at home, it was his 100th Grand Prix. The third row also had a Williams and a Ferrari, but in reverse order: Riccardo Patrese in fifth and Nigel Mansell in sixth.

The biggest surprise during the qualifying rounds was Lotus’ poor performance. Andrea de Cesaris got in the way of Nelson Piquet, who also had a hard time with his Judd engine and didn’t make the grid. And even though his teammate, Satoru Nakajuma, was 0s5 faster, he still didn’t land among the first 26 drivers.

Spa Francorchamps has all kinds of different corners, like the notorious Eau-Rouge, made at maximum acceleration between a downhill slope and an uphill climb, challenging drivers’ courage. To make things even more exciting, the rain and the tire’s low temperature were a real concern, especially in the first lap. A good car wasn’t enough. It was in situations like this that Ayrton Senna’s talent shined brighter0.

The start was delayed in almost an hour, due to the amount of water on the track. As soon as the cars started moving, the Brazilian held on to the lead, followed by Prost and Berger. Mansell made a bold start, went over the grass and still managed to take the fourth position.

On lap nine, Berger was the first among the leaders to retire. He lost control over his Ferrari and the third position was Mansell’s to take. It was raining so hard in Spa-Francorchamps that the best drivers were doing 2min21s laps, almost 30 seconds slower than in the qualifying rounds.

In the 20th lap, Ricardo Patrese tried to overtake Michele Alboreto (Lola), who was a backmarker, but both ended up crashing and leaving the race. The Italian ceded his fifth place to countryman Alessandro Nannini, from Benetton.

Meanwhile, Senna had an easier time overtaking backmarkers, and kept widening the gap between him and Prost. On lap 22, the race’s midpoint, there was a 12-sencond difference between the rivals.

From then on, as dramatic as the rain made the race look, things didn’t change a lot at the front of the pack, especially because drivers didn’t need to make pit-stops.

Ayrton started being cautious in the last few laps and slowed down. The Brazilian crossed the finish line just 1s304 ahead of Prost, after 44 laps. There was a good reason behind the Frenchman’s surge at the end: Mansell was in his rearview mirror and tired hard to overtake him. The Britton finished the race in third, just 0s520 after the Prost.

Thierry Boutsen finished his 100th GP in fourth. Nannini was fifth and the sixth place went to Arrows’ Derek Warwick. Mauricio Gugelmin tried to score points with his March, mas ended up in seventh place.

Ayrton’s win from start to finish was his 19th triumph in Formula One and his third in Belgium. With that result, Prost’s lead in the standings shrunk 3 points, down to 11 (62 to 51). Mansell was in third, overall, with 38 points and Patrese, even after retiring, kept the fourth position with 25 points.

The following race was scheduled to Monza, in Italy, two weeks later. The true key to success (racing well on a wet track) is to control your natural instincts and maintain within the limits.”

Race Summary

  • 1 Ayrton Senna
  • 2 A. Prost
  • 3 G. Berger
  • 4 T. Boutsen
  • 5 R. Patrese
  • 6 N. Mansell
  • 7 A. Nannini
  • 8 S. Modena
  • 9 M. Gugelmin
  • 10 D. Warwick
  • 11 P. Alliot
  • 12 A.Caffi
  • 13 E. Pirro
  • 14 P. Martini
  • 15 S. Johansson
  • 16 J. Herbert
  • 17 R. Arnoux
  • 18 A. de Cesaris
  • 19 I. Capelli
  • 20 M. Brundle
  • 21 J. Palmer
  • 22 M. Alboreto
  • 23 B. Gachot
  • 24 E. Cheever
  • 25 L. Perez-Sala
  • 26 O. Grouillard
Turns 44
Time Chuvoso
Fastest lap A. Prost - 2´11´´571
Podium 1º Ayrton Senna 2º A. Prost 3º N. Mansell
Cars 26
Leaving 10

Senna in race

Starting position 1
Final position 1
Best lap 2’12’’890
Points added to the Championship 9
Championship position after the race 2
What did he say after the race
The true key to success (racing well on a wet track) is to control your natural instincts and maintain within the limits.”