by James Brickles
The half-way point of the 1989 FF1M Season has seen a variety of different winners in amongst the five races, and a few surprises with drivers not being where they expected, such as Ayrton Senna, who has been one of the quickest drivers all season, but being constantly plagued by dodgy electronics. Could be worse, Shake n Bake have had major problems with their suspension with Jean Alesi getting the worst of the luck.
The first round took place at the Rio-based Jacarepagua circuit in Brazil, where home hero Ayrton Senna delivered a masterpiece on how to dominate a race having beaten polesitter Alain Prost off the line to win by more than a minute from everyone else. What made his win even more impressive was that he was forced into a two-stop strategy thanks to an electrical glitch at around one third distance. The new tyres proved to be a massive advantage with the Darkfire driver lapping over three seconds quicker than anyone else, and Senna utilised this to maximum effect. Finishing 2nd in that race was another Brazilian, Nelson Piquet, driving for the newest team in the FF1M world, JGR Meister, and 3rd was Nigel Mansell for the ever-meticulous Tornado team.
In fact, JGR Meister had a double points finish in Rio with Stefan Johansson finishing in 6th, but the German-based team would do even better than that at the second round at Imola. Starting from 4th on the grid, Piquet took advantage of front row starters Senna and Rene Arnoux colliding at Piratella to move into 2nd before muscling his way past Thierry Boutsen going into the first Rivazza to take a lead he would never lose (ignoring the obligatory pit stop sequence).
Behind the Brazilian, Alain Prost finished in a similarly quiet 2nd place, which opened his championship campaign after suffering an engine failure in Brazil. The battle for 3rd was anything but quiet as it initially looked like Senna had made a masterful recovery after his collision with Arnoux, but another electrical gremlin followed by another collision into Piratella, this time with Pierluigi Martini, left him down in 7th. Instead, it was Nigel Mansell who took another 3rd after a strong drive from 12th on the grid, despite a few bouts of contact along the way.
Next up was Monaco, a circuit famous for its unique driving challenge and towering backdrop on the French riviera, but also for its lack of overtaking opportunities, so qualifying well here was critical. Few would’ve expected Michele Alboreto in the Willows to put in a stunning effort to take pole by just three thousandths of a second from Nigel Mansell, but it was no less deserved.
The two were the class of the field as they duelled for much of the race before Mansell beautifully demonstrated the undercut to take the lead after the pitstop sequence. He eventually won by nearly 25 seconds from Alboreto, while the battle for 3rd involved at least eight cars, eventually whittled down to seven when Pedersen’s Martin Brundle crashed at the swimming pool on the penultimate lap. It eventually went the way of AndrewF1’s Alessandro Nannini, their first podium of the season.
Another street circuit was next, the Phoenix Street Circuit, for the United States Grand Prix. Although it presented more overtaking opportunities with its wider straights and heavier braking zones, the drivers seemed more on-edge with multiple collisions and a lack of spatial awareness throughout. Michele Alboreto and Andrea De Cesaris were even sent barrel-rolling at the first corner in separate incidents.
In the previous race, Ayrton Senna suffered his third electrical gremlin in a row. This time around, he suffered a race-ending transmission failure while running comfortably in the lead. This left Gerhard Berger to a rather lonely run to his first win of the season, the fourth different winner in as many races. Behind him however, was a very unusual running order with only four other finishers. They included 2nd-placed Mauricio Gugelmin for Tornado, who survived three collisions including the aforementioned Alboreto and De Cesaris, and then one more with Derek Warwick later in the race. 3rd was Eddie Cheever, who overcame last place in qualifying and an unscheduled pitstop for a remarkable result for the Unbearable GP team.
The French Grand Prix was next up at a shortened variant of the Paul Ricard circuit. The early laps saw Ayrton Senna battle with the Willows of Satoru Nakajima before asserting his authority with his typical demon pace. Once again however, it would go wrong for the Darkfire driver, only this time, he had himself to blame as he spun going into La Tour. This handed the lead to Alain Prost, who had patiently made his way to the front from 7th on the grid, but then he carelessly spun going into Bendor and left Nakajima battling with Gerhard Berger with half the race to go.
Traffic proved to be a major problem during the pitstop sequence, and Berger was caught out badly after being punted by Michele Alboreto at the final corner. The main beneficiary was Nelson Piquet, who was up to 3rd. This became 2nd after he overtook Thierry Boutsen going into La Bretelle on lap 51 before setting off after Nakajima. The two battled over the final five laps with Piquet eventually making it stick. The Brazilian took his second win of the season ahead of Nakajima, while behind, the battles for 3rd was just as hotly contested, with Alboreto holding off a charging Andrea De Cesaris on the final lap.
Piquet therefore leads the championship at the halfway point with a ten point buffer over Nigel Mansell, and a further six from his great rival, Ayrton Senna. In the constructors, JGR Meister hold a slightly less comfortable lead over Tornado, 28 vs 23, with Willows on 17 thanks to a decent points haul from both their drivers. With incoming upgrades and a further five races to go, that could all change…