1989 United States Grand Prix was a Formula One race held on June 4, 1989 in
the year following the last
Formula One race in Detroit, and choices for a new location for
the United States Grand Prix came down to Laguna
Seca, in California, and Phoenix, Arizona.
Laguna Seca was thought to be too small for
an F1 crowd and too remote, and Phoenix was said to be too hot in
June. Phoenix it would be, however, with the course running through
a massively redeveloped downtown area.
The drivers had long complained about the
problems with racing on a temporary track in Detroit, and anticipated similar prospects in the new
city. Unlike Detroit, however, the organizers
managed to get the course ready and start the first sessions on
qualifying on Friday, Ayrton Senna went
progressively faster and faster, eventually posting a time 1.5
seconds ahead of McLaren teammate
Alain Prost and the rest of the
Some suggested that Senna must have cut through the
Sheraton hotel parking lot to do a time like that!
During the morning practice on Saturday, Prost spun backward into a
wall and damaged the monocoque and gearbox. It was the first
Prost had broken in six years,
since joining the team in 1984! Senna's stunning time from Friday–
1:30.710– stood up through the second session, and gave him his
34th career pole position, breaking Jim
's record of 33.
A crowd of 31,441 turned out for the race on Sunday in 100-degree
heat. Prost got a jump on Senna at the start, but hit a bump in the
straight, causing his wheels to spin and the engine to be cut
momentarily by the rev limiter. Senna made it to the corner first,
and led by .45 seconds after one lap, ahead of Prost, Alessandro Nannini
, Nigel Mansell
, Stefano Modena
, Martin Brundle
, Gerhard Berger
, Andrea de Cesaris
and Michele Alboreto
After 16 laps, Senna's lead over Prost was 4.25 seconds. He
suddenly doubled that on the next lap when Prost's engine began
overheating. Prost backed off for a lap, and the water and oil
temperatures returned to normal.
The gap between the two McLarens varied as they
worked their way through traffic, but on lap 29, Prost closed the
gap when Senna suffered a misfire. The problem disappeared
momentarily– with Senna doing his fastest lap of the race– but then
returned, worse than before. On lap 34, with Prost only
one second back, Senna waved his teammate past and then
After two pit stops to change black box, battery and plugs– and
successive fastest laps in between, Senna retired on lap 44. It was
his first retirement ever because of a Honda
Alex Caffi, who had started in sixth, was up to second with Senna's
retirement. A stop for new tires, after being passed by Berger,
dropped him back two more spots to fifth. As he tried to re-lap his
teammate, de Cesaris, however, Caffi had a nose ahead when de
Cesaris turned in and forced Caffi into the wall and out of the
race. de Cesaris, having further enhanced his reputation, at the
expense of his teammate, no less, continued.
Throughout the race, Riccardo Patrese, Ivan Capelli and Eddie
Cheever had been in close contact. When Capelli
retired on lap 21 with a gearbox failure, Patrese and Cheever
carried on the battle alone. After lap 51, the fight was
for second place, with Patrese ahead. Despite a fuel
pickupproblem with his engine, Cheever mounted a challenge in
the waning laps until his front brakes and one rear brake failed!
The American and Phoenix native was as thrilled as the crowd with
his podium finish.
The two-hour time limit was reached after 75 of the scheduled 81
laps, as Prost coasted to his only United States win and increased
his then all-time record victory total to 36. He also took the
lead, by two points over Senna, in the Driver's Championship which
he eventually won. Patrese's runner-up placing was his second in a
row. After struggling through practice, qualifying and warmup, and
starting from 14th spot, Patrese and technical director Patrick Head
had guessed at a setup and finally
got it right for the race. Christian
's fourth place for Rial
was his best career finish and
matched the best ever finish for the team.
first Grand Prix could be considered a success, and the circus
would be back the following year.
- 34th pole position (record-breaker): Ayrton Senna
- Eddie Cheever's third place was
the ninth and last podium finish of his F1 career.
- Rob Walker (September, 1989). "United States Grand Prix at
Phoenix: Just Desert". Road & Track, 82-85.