The McLaren steamroller rolled on inexorably. This time it was the turn of Alain Prost to take the world title, and join the serried ranks of three-time winners. The trouble was that he was no longer on speaking terms with Senna...
The battle between Prost and Senna raged on, with the rest of the field reduced to a supporting role. Nigel Mansell had quit Williams for Ferrari to drive alongside Berger, while Williams had got rid of its Judd engines and signed with Renault. Ferrari had another trump up its sleeve as it introduced semi-automatic gearboxes, allowing it to do away with a gear lever and letting its drivers keep both hands on the streering wheel at all times, flicking paddles on its flanks to change up and down the gearbox.
Thierry Boutsen arrived at Williams, his place at Benetton being filled by Formula 3000 hotshot Johnny Herbert. Also on the move was Michele Alboreto, stepping down from Ferrari to join his former team, Tyrrell.
The late 1980s continued to be good for new teams, with Brabham returning after a year away, this time with Swiss financier Joachim Luhti at the helm and Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena on the driving force, and Onyx stepping up to join them with Stefan Johansson trying his luck with yet another team.
Senna claimed pole from Patrese in Brazil, but he went off at the first corner and Patrese took an early lead, although Mansell was able to control the race as Prost hit trouble. Prost kept going to finish second, with Mauricio Gugelmin hard on his heels and Herbert right with the pair of them in one of the most impressive Formula One debuts of all time. It was even more so when Johnny's foot and ankle injuries suffered in 1988 were taken into consideration.
Senna led at Imola, but the race was stopped when Gerhard Berger crashed at Tamburello, the Austrian suffering second-degree burns to his hands and a broken rib in an accident that demonstrated the progress teams had made in strengthening their cars' cockpits. Prost got away better at the restart but Senna overturned a pre-race deal and snatched the lead. Senna and Prost started from the front row in Monaco and Senna led all the way to win easily from Prost, while Brundle was denied third by electrical failure that let Brabham team-mate Modena through.
Senna dominated in Mexico, while Prost chose the wrong tyres and fell to fifth. Mansell ran second, but his gearbox failed and this promoted Patrese and Tyrrell's Alboreto to complete the rostrum. Prost won on the streets of Phoenix as Senna's electrics failed, leaving Prost free to beat Patrese.
McLaren domination was broken in Canada when Boutsen scored his first win after the McLarens retired. Patrese made it a Williams one-two. Herbert failed to qualify and was dropped by Benetton, to be replaced by Emanuele Pirro. There was drama in France as Mauricio Gugelmin got it very wrong at the start and his Leyton House March took off over the pack, forcing the race to be stopped. Then, on the restart, Senna's transmission failed and this left Prost clear to lead all the way. Mansell was second despite starting from the pits after his car was damaged at the first start.
Senna failed to score at the British Grand Prix, spinning out of the lead to let Prost win again. Mansell delighted the crowd with second, despite delays with a puncture. Senna struck back in Germany, recovering from a slower pitstop to retake the lead when Prost's gearbox started balking. Mansell was third.
Mansell was in fighting form when he tigered from 12th to win in Hungary, while Senna came second with Boutsen third. It was wet at Spa-Francorchamps, and Senna led all the way. The sun was out at Monza - well, for Prost at least, as he won from Berger and Boutsen.
In Portugal, Berger won from Prost and Johansson. Mansell missed his pit, reversed and was black flagged. This he ignored and then spun out with Senna, later being given a one-race ban, so he took no part in Spain. This left Senna to win with Berger second and Prost third. Prost and Senna clashed in Japan and settled the title race in Prost's favour. Senna dived up the inside into the chicane, but Prost refused to cede and they spun. Prost retired on the spot, but Senna was push-started before pitting for a new nose and still was first to the finish. But he was disqualified for receiving external assistance, giving Nannini his first win. Boutsen won again in Adelaide from Alessandro Nannini after Senna had stormed clear but ploughed into Brundle's spray-hidden Brabham.
Alain Prost arrived in Japan with the title all but in the bag, but his McLaren team-mate, Ayrton Senna, had other plans. With a 16-point advantage, Prost did not need a win to claim his third world title. To keep his hopes alive, however, Senna did. The Frenchman still gave it his all in qualifying to lap faster than qualifying king Senna. In the race, no one could touch them as they sped into the distance. On lap 47 out of 53, Senna made a dive up the inside into the chicane. Prost chose not to make any room for him and they collided. Prost was out, while Senna had to be pushed clear and pit for a new nose to maintain any chance of winning the race. However, he was then disqualified for having received outside assistance and Benetton's Alessandro Nannini was handed the victory.
Prost remained champion for five days until an appeal took the matter to court, albeit for the judgment to be found in his favour.
Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books