1990 United States Grand Prix

The 1990 United States Grand Prix was the opening motor race of the 1990 Formula One World Championship held on March 11, 1990, in Phoenix, Arizona. It was the 32nd United States Grand Prix since the American Grand Prize was first held in 1908, and the 25th under Formula One regulations since the first United States Grand Prix was held at Sebring, Florida in 1959. It was the second to be held on the streets of Phoenix and ran over 72 laps of the 4 km-circuit.

1990 United States Grand Prix
Race 1 of 16 in the 1990 Formula One World Championship
Phoenix Grand Prix Route - 1989, 1990.svg
Race details
Date March 11, 1990
Official name XXVII Iceberg United States Grand Prix
Location Phoenix street circuit
Phoenix, Arizona
Course Temporary street circuit
Course length 3.800 km (2.361 miles)
Distance 72 laps, 273.60 km (169.992 miles)
Weather Cloudy and cool with temperatures reaching up to 18 °C (64 °F)[1]
Attendance 10,000-15,000[2]
Pole position
Driver McLaren-Honda
Time 1:28.664
Fastest lap
Driver Austria Gerhard Berger McLaren-Honda
Time 1:31.050 on lap 34
First McLaren-Honda
Second Tyrrell-Ford
Third Williams-Renault
Lap leaders

The race was won by Brazilian Ayrton Senna, driving a McLaren MP4/5B by eight seconds over French driver Jean Alesi in his comparatively under-funded Tyrrell 018. Throughout the race, the pair enthralled fans with some fabulous and daring passing for the lead.

It was Alesi's first podium finish, with Belgian driver Thierry Boutsen in a Williams FW13B coming home third.


The United States Grand Prix in the dry desert city of Phoenix was moved to the start of the season in March to avoid the intense 100+ °F heat the city experiences in summer, although the previous year's race was run in June because it was given at such short notice. Swiss driver Gregor Foitek made his Formula One race debut for the Brabham team. He had attempted to qualify for races during the 1989 season, failing to make the grid in eleven qualifying attempts for EuroBrun and one for Rial.


Pre-qualifying reportEdit

Several teams were required to participate in the Friday morning pre-qualifying sessions during 1990, in order to reduce the field to thirty cars for the main qualifying sessions on Friday afternoon and Saturday. At the midway point of the season, the pre-qualifying group was to be reassessed, with the more successful, points-scoring teams being allowed to avoid pre-qualifying, and unsuccessful teams being required to pre-qualify from mid-season onwards.

Nine cars were required to take part in pre-qualifying sessions during the first half of the 1990 season, reduced from thirteen at the end of the 1989 season. The disappearance of the Zakspeed and Rial teams reduced the numbers, as did the reduction of the Osella and Coloni teams from two cars each to one car each. In contrast, EuroBrun expanded from one car to two, and were joined by the only new team on the entry lists, Life Racing Engines, who ran a single car. The fastest four cars would go through to the main qualifying sessions.

The Larrousse team again fielded Lola-Lamborghinis, driven by Éric Bernard and ex-Zakspeed driver Aguri Suzuki, both of whom had driven odd races for the team before. AGS continued with Yannick Dalmas and Gabriele Tarquini, while EuroBrun hired ex-Coloni driver Roberto Moreno and newcomer Claudio Langes. Coloni brought in ex-Rial and Onyx driver Bertrand Gachot to drive the C3B with its new Subaru-badged engine, while the sole Osella FA1M was to be driven by ex-Ligier man Olivier Grouillard. The new team, Life, hired another Grand Prix newcomer, Gary Brabham to drive their L190 car with its unusual W12 engine. The chassis had initially been built for the previous season by the First Racing team, which ultimately did not take part in Formula One.[3]

During the pre-qualifying session on Friday morning, Moreno was fastest by four tenths of a second in his EuroBrun ER189B, already a great improvement over their form during 1989, despite the car being overweight. The Larrousse-Lola LC89Bs of Bernard and Suzuki were second and fourth, this marking the first pre-qualification for Suzuki after failing at every event for Zakspeed last season. Sandwiched between the Lolas in third was Grouillard in the Osella.[3]

The unsuccessful runners included Tarquini and Dalmas in the two AGS JH24 cars, two seconds behind Suzuki, and debutant Langes in the second EuroBrun, a couple of seconds adrift of Dalmas. The other two cars struggled, as Brabham in the Life suffered electrical failure after four laps, the team having been unable to sufficiently test their new car and engine; while Gachot's Coloni broke a gear selector rod on its first lap.[3]

Pre-qualifying classificationEdit

Pos No Driver Constructor Time Gap
1 33   Roberto Moreno EuroBrun-Judd 1:32.292
2 29   Éric Bernard Lola-Lamborghini 1:32.711 +0.419
3 14   Olivier Grouillard Osella-Ford 1:33.181 +0.889
4 30   Aguri Suzuki Lola-Lamborghini 1:33.331 +1.039
5 17   Gabriele Tarquini AGS-Ford 1:35.420 +3.128
6 18   Yannick Dalmas AGS-Ford 1:35.481 +3.189
7 34   Claudio Langes EuroBrun-Judd 1:37.399 +5.107
8 39   Gary Brabham Life 2:07.147 +35.855
9 31   Bertrand Gachot Coloni-Subaru 5:15.010 +3:43.718

Qualifying reportEdit

Unexpected rain on Saturday meant that the grid was decided entirely by times from Friday's session. Pirelli's soft qualifying tires caught Goodyear off guard, and the Italian manufacturer put five of its teams in the top ten positions, including Jean Alesi, who was fourth in a Tyrrell. In a surprise move, team manager Ken Tyrrell had signed with Pirelli two days before the race, after 18 years with Goodyear. Gerhard Berger's pole-winning McLaren was the only car in the first two rows sporting Goodyears. Pierluigi Martini put Minardi on the front row for the only time in the team's history, less than seven-hundredths off Berger's pole time. In addition, Andrea de Cesaris (Scuderia Italia), Olivier Grouillard (Osella) and Roberto Moreno (EuroBrun) all scored what proved to be their team's best grid position of the year. Ayrton Senna could only manage fifth, while Alain Prost, in his first race for Ferrari, was seventh. Philippe Alliot was excluded when a mechanic worked on the car outside of the pit area during Friday's practice.

Qualifying classificationEdit

Pos No Driver Constructor Q1 Q2 Gap
1 28   Gerhard Berger McLaren-Honda 1:28.664 1:53.486
2 23   Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Ford 1:28.731 2:33.083 +0.067
3 22   Andrea de Cesaris Dallara-Ford 1:29.019 1:57.435 +0.355
4 4   Jean Alesi Tyrrell-Ford 1:29.408 1:54.738 +0.744
5 27   Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda 1:29.431 1:52.015 +0.767
6 20   Nelson Piquet Benetton-Ford 1:29.862 1:55.449 +1.198
7 1   Alain Prost Ferrari 1:29.910 1:56.661 +1.246
8 14   Olivier Grouillard Osella-Ford 1:29.947 +1.283
9 5   Thierry Boutsen Williams-Renault 1:30.059 1:52.771 +1.395
10 8   Stefano Modena Brabham-Judd 1:30.127 +1.463
11 3   Satoru Nakajima Tyrrell-Ford 1:30.130 +1.466
12 6   Riccardo Patrese Williams-Renault 1:30.213 1:53.530 +1.549
13 25   Nicola Larini Ligier-Ford 1:30.424 +1.760
14 24   Paolo Barilla Minardi-Ford 1:31.194 +2.530
15 29   Éric Bernard Lola-Lamborghini 1:31.226 +2.562
16 33   Roberto Moreno EuroBrun-Judd 1:31.247 1:51.538 +2.583
17 2   Nigel Mansell Ferrari 1:31.363 1:52.405 +2.699
18 30   Aguri Suzuki Lola-Lamborghini 1:31.414 +2.750
19 12   Martin Donnelly Lotus-Lamborghini 1:31.650 1:49.942 +2.986
20 10   Bernd Schneider Arrows-Ford 1:31.892 +3.228
21 9   Michele Alboreto Arrows-Ford 1:31.948 1:54.499 +3.284
22 19   Alessandro Nannini Benetton-Ford 1:31.984 +3.320
23 7   Gregor Foitek Brabham-Judd 1:32.398 +3.734
24 11   Derek Warwick Lotus-Lamborghini 1:32.400 2:05.974 +3.736
25 15   Maurício Gugelmin Leyton House-Judd 1:32.904 +4.240
26 16   Ivan Capelli Leyton House-Judd 1:33.044 +4.380
27 35   Stefan Johansson Onyx-Ford 1:33.468 +4.804
28 21   Gianni Morbidelli Dallara-Ford 1:34.292 +5.628
29 36   JJ Lehto Onyx-Ford
EX 26   Philippe Alliot Ligier-Ford 1:31.664 +3.000


Race reportEdit

Martin Donnelly did not take the dummy grid due to gearbox failure. (Some sources consider this a DNS.)

Race day was cool with a chance of rain. Berger quickly pulled ahead of Martini and moved over in front of him, but Alesi, whose F1 career had begun in his home country of France the previous summer, made an even quicker start, passed them both and outbraked Berger into the first corner. He immediately began pulling away, and led by 2.4 seconds after one lap.

Senna passed de Cesaris for third, and closed on Berger, who was giving up a half second a lap to Alesi. The Brazilian got by his team-mate when, on lap 9, Berger hit a bump under braking, backed into the tire wall and damaged his rear wing. He pitted for a new wing, and later recorded the fastest lap of the race, but eventually retired with a clutch problem.

When Berger spun, Senna was 8.2 seconds behind Alesi. Not knowing whether the Tyrrell's Pirelli tires would last, Senna was reluctant to push too hard early on. After 30 laps, Alesi remained in the lead, but on lap 34, Senna passed him on the inside. The Tyrrell held the outside line on the exit and retook the lead on the next turn. At the same point, one lap later, Senna took the lead again, and this time he held it.

After several attempts to regain the lead, Alesi decided to conserve his tires, and let Senna go. Meanwhile, Nelson Piquet had progressed from sixth on the grid to third by lap 17. Brake trouble caused him to flatspot his tyres, however, and on lap 28 he pitted for new ones. This allowed Thierry Boutsen's Williams through, and though he battled a problem with his engine intermittently cutting out, he maintained third place to the flag. Piquet had to settle for fourth in his first drive for Benetton.

Prost had fallen back to ninth at the start with gearbox problems, and, while he advanced to fourth place by lap 17, his gearbox troubles proved terminal on lap 21. In the other Ferrari, Nigel Mansell retired from fifth on lap 49, when his clutch disintegrated and pierced the oil tank. The engine seized and caught fire, sending Mansell into a spin.

Senna built his lead over Alesi to 28.5 seconds, but backed off slightly when his engine began sounding less than healthy. Stefano Modena and Satoru Nakajima, in a Brabham and the second Tyrrell, respectively, finished the scoring in fifth and sixth places. It was the 21st win of Ayrton Senna's career and the first of six for the season. Alesi's podium finish was the first of his career.

The first two finishers were full of praise for one another after the race. Senna said he knew Alesi had the ingredients to be World Champion, and Alesi gushed, "He is my hero and has been for many years." Other winners in the race were Ken Tyrrell, with two cars in the points; and Pirelli, with three points finishers.

Race classificationEdit

Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 27   Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda 72 1:52:32.829 5 9
2 4   Jean Alesi Tyrrell-Ford 72 + 8.685 4 6
3 5   Thierry Boutsen Williams-Renault 72 + 54.080 9 4
4 20   Nelson Piquet Benetton-Ford 72 + 1:08.358 6 3
5 8   Stefano Modena Brabham-Judd 72 + 1:09.503 10 2
6 3   Satoru Nakajima Tyrrell-Ford 71 + 1 lap 11 1
7 23   Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Ford 71 + 1 lap 2
8 29   Éric Bernard Lola-Lamborghini 71 + 1 lap 15
9 6   Riccardo Patrese Williams-Renault 71 + 1 lap 12
10 9   Michele Alboreto Arrows-Ford 70 + 2 laps 21
11 19   Alessandro Nannini Benetton-Ford 70 + 2 laps 22
12 10   Bernd Schneider Arrows-Ford 70 + 2 laps 20
13 33   Roberto Moreno EuroBrun-Judd 67 + 5 laps 16
14 15   Maurício Gugelmin Leyton House-Judd 66 + 6 laps 25
Ret 24   Paolo Barilla Minardi-Ford 54 Physical 14
Ret 30   Aguri Suzuki Lola-Lamborghini 53 Brakes 18
Ret 2   Nigel Mansell Ferrari 49 Engine 17
Ret 28   Gerhard Berger McLaren-Honda 44 Clutch 1
Ret 7   Gregor Foitek Brabham-Judd 39 Accident 23
Ret 14   Olivier Grouillard Osella-Ford 39 Collision 8
Ret 22   Andrea de Cesaris Dallara-Ford 25 Engine 3
Ret 1   Alain Prost Ferrari 21 Oil leak 7
Ret 16   Ivan Capelli Leyton House-Judd 20 Electrical 26
Ret 11   Derek Warwick Lotus-Lamborghini 6 Gearbox 24
Ret 25   Nicola Larini Ligier-Ford 4 Throttle 13
DNS 12   Martin Donnelly Lotus-Lamborghini 0 Gearbox 19
DNQ 35   Stefan Johansson Onyx-Ford
DNQ 21   Gianni Morbidelli Dallara-Ford
DNQ 36   JJ Lehto Onyx-Ford
EX 26   Philippe Alliot Ligier-Ford
DNPQ 17   Gabriele Tarquini AGS-Ford
DNPQ 18   Yannick Dalmas AGS-Ford
DNPQ 34   Claudio Langes EuroBrun-Judd
DNPQ 39   Gary Brabham Life
DNPQ 31   Bertrand Gachot Coloni-Subaru

Championship standings after the raceEdit

  • Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.


  1. ^ Weather info for the 1990 United States Grand Prix at Weather Underground
  2. ^ "Early pass launches Senna to victory in U.S. Grand Prix". Courier-Post. 12 March 1990. Retrieved 19 September 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ a b c Walker, Murray (1990). Murray Walker's Grand Prix Year. Hazleton Publishing. p. 10–22. ISBN 0 905138 82 1.
  4. ^ "1990 United States Grand Prix". formula1.com. Archived from the original on 21 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  5. ^ a b "United States 1990 - Championship • STATS F1". www.statsf1.com. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  • Rob Walker (June, 1990). "2nd United States Grand Prix at Phoenix: Senna's Surprise". Road & Track, 92–96.

External linksEdit

Previous race:
1989 Australian Grand Prix
FIA Formula One World Championship
1990 season
Next race:
1990 Brazilian Grand Prix
Previous race:
1989 United States Grand Prix
United States Grand Prix Next race:
1991 United States Grand Prix

Coordinates: 33°26′52.5″N 112°4′28.5″W / 33.447917°N 112.074583°W / 33.447917; -112.074583