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Formula One racing in the 1980s began with the rise of turbo cars and the perfection of aerodynamics, and ended with the banishment of one and the strong regulation of the other. New engine suppliers such as BMW and Honda came into the sport and were able to challenge Renault and Ferrari for championships. New heroes were made in the likes of Senna, Prost, Berger, Piquet and Mansell, though they still had to fight with the old guard of people like Lauda. This decade also saw the largest number of teams fighting to get into Formula One, with some never even making it into a race but showing up to try anyway. Formula One, under the guidance of Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone, also started down the road to becoming the business giant that it is today.
The Tracks of the 1980s
- Argentina (Buenos Aires) 1980 - 81
- Austria (Osterreichring) 1980 - 87
- Australia (Adelaide) 1985 - 89
- Belgium (Zolder) 1980 - 82, 1984
- Belgium (Spa Francorchamps) 1983, 1985 - 89
- Brazil (Interlagos) 1980
- Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) 1981 - 89
- Canada (Montreal) 1980 - 89
- England (Brands Hatch) 1980, 1982 - 86
- England (Silverstone1) 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987 - 89
- France (Paul Ricard) 1980, 1982 - 83, 1985 - 89
- France (Dijon - Prenois) 1981, 84
- Germany (Hockenheim) 1980 - 84, 1986 - 89
- Germany (Nurburgring2) 1984 - 85
- Hungary (Hungaroring) 1986 - 89
- Japan (Suzuka) 1987, 1989
- Mexico (Mexico City) 1986 - 89
- Monaco (Monte Carlo) 1980 - 89
- Netherlands (Zandvoort) 1980 - 85
- Italy (Imola) 1980
- Italy (Monza) 1981 - 89
- Portugal (Estoril) 1984 - 89
- San Marino (Imola3) 1981 - 89
- South Africa (Kyalami) 1980 - 854
- Spain (Jarama) 19805 - 81
- Spain (Jerez) 1986 - 89
- Switzerland (Dijon - Prenois6) 1982
- United States (Watkins Glen) 1980
- United States (Long Beach) 1980 - 83
- United States (Las Vegas) 1981, 1982
- United States (Detroit) 1982 - 88
- United States (Dallas) 1984
- United States (Phoenix) 1989
The beginning of the new decade was marred by a continuation of the struggle between FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) and FOCA (Formula One Constructor's Association).
Ferrari entered the turbocharged area of engines in this year, joining Renault, which had run them for the past few years. Even with the turbocharged engine, however, this was one of Ferrari's worst years as their classic V-12 engine was too big to put in a car designed to take full advantage of the wing car concept. Aerodynamics were developed even further, resulting in staggering increases in speed and cornering forces.
The cars to beat this year were the Williams, Brabham and Ligier, taking a total of 11 of the 13 races between them, while still using the old standard Ford Cosworth V-8. Renault also notched up three more wins for turbo engines, showing even more potential for this new breed of engine.
The season opened in Argentina - Alan Jones won for Williams over Nelson Piquet in a Brabham, setting up the fight that would last all year. Renault then took the chequered flag at the hands of René Arnoux at the fast Interlagos track in Brazil, where the turbo engine was able to take full advantage of the extra horsepower it had over normally aspirated engines. Second in Brazil was Elio de Angelis, giving Lotus what would be their best finish of the season. Arnoux also then took the next race in South Africa, again thanks to the turbo engine, because Kyalami is run at an altitude of 1800 metres above sea-level and the thinner air does not affect a turbo engine as much as it would a normally aspirated engine.
The next race was won by Piquet, giving him his first career win, though it was overshadowed by the major accident Clay Regazzoni suffered when the brakes failed on his Ensign MN11 and he crashed, paralyzing him from the waist down. Another first-time winner was Didier Pironi, who won the following race at Zolder, making three new winners in the past four races. Carlos Reutemann then returned to the top of the podium with his only win of the season, in Monaco. Also of note at Monaco was what appeared to be an horrific crash that sent Derek Daly flying upside-down over several cars. Nobody was injured, however, and the ironic thing is that the sponsor of the Tyrrell 010 that Daly was driving was immensely happy with the accident because it resulted in a lot of air time when the crash was shown in slow motion and the sponsor's name was visible.
The next race was to be held in Spain but, because of conflict between FISA and FOCA, only the drivers supporting FOCA raced. Jones won, although, as FISA was in control of the points system, they nullified the race and took away all the points. Jones made up for the brief upset in Spain by winning in France and England before another first time winner, Jacques Laffite, took the chequered flag at Hockenheim. His success was followed by yet another win for the Renault turbo, this time at the hands of Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the Osterreichring. Piquet won the next race at Zandvoort in what was becoming a close-fought season, with Jones just barely leading Piquet in the points. But tragedy again struck the racing world as Patrick Depailler was killed while testing with the Alfa Romeo Type 179 at Hockenheim.
Ferrari then introduced their new turbo V-6 engine at the Italian Grand Prix, held at Imola - the first time since 1949 it had been held at a track other than Monza. Piquet won, putting him one point ahead of Jones with two races to go. Also at Imola another engine was shown for the first time, the V-8 turbo Alfa Romeo, though it would not race for several years. Bad luck then caught up with Piquet, who failed to finish the last two races of the season, at Montreal and Watkins Glen. Jones won them both, securing his first and only title.
The season finished with seven different race winners, three of whom had never won before. Seven different men claimed a pole position, including Bruno Giacomelli for Alfa Romeo in the last race of the season. Jones finished with 67 points to Piquet's 54 and Reutemann's 47. Williams also won its first constructors' title as a result of the reliability of its car, with at least one Williams scoring a point in every race but one.
The competitiveness of the season, with six teams and seven drivers winning races, was overshadowed again by the management conflicts within Formula One. Even before the season started, FOCA had set up their own body called the World Federation of Motorsport (WFM) and was to offer a World Professional Championship series, but the sponsors and tracks, along with many teams, still sided with FISA - the WFM lasted but a month and all teams again ran under the same championship. This type of political fighting, however, resulted in the postponement of the first race of the year. Finally, some order appeared to be restored when the Concorde Agreement was signed by the teams at Ferrari's headquarters and defined the roles of the FIA, FISA and FOCA. During the hammering out of the agreement, however, the South African Grand Prix had been run - its status was nullified by FISA, as only FOCA drivers had raced. The season eventually started at the US Grand Prix West.
Williams picked up where it left off the previous year by taking the first two places in each of the first two races, with Jones winning at Long Beach and Reutemann winning in Brazil. Piquet then came back to win at the rescheduled Argentine Grand Prix and the new San Marino Grand Prix (held at Imola, Italy). Also at Imola it was decided that the hydraulic systems used to lower cars to the ground to take effect of their skirts were legal. These systems allowed teams to get around the new rule stating that skirts must clear the ground by 60mm by using hydraulics to lower the car while in motion to the point where the skirts were almost to the ground again, gaining back much of their effect. Reutemann then won the next race in Belgium and it seemed as if it would be another Brabham and Williams season.
This was not to be the case, however, with Gilles Villeneuve giving the new Ferrari turbo its first win at Monaco, then leading one of the most stunning finishes at the next race in Spain, where five cars all finished nose to tail within 1.24s of each other. Renault then won the next race at the hands of their new driver - a small French man destined for big things - Alain Prost. McLaren then returned to victory with John Watson at the wheel at Silverstone. Piquet finally returned to the top of the finishing order at the German Grand Prix, but this would be his last win of the season. Jacques Laffite then won in Austria for Ligier, while Alain Prost won the next two races, at Zandvoort and Monza, racking up the first three wins of his career in six races. Laffite then came back, winning in Canada, while Jones finally won another race for Williams at the closing race in Las Vegas.
Though not winning a large number of races, consistency allowed Piquet to take his first title over Reutemann, Jones and Laffite. Announced at the end of the season was the entrance of two large German auto companies into Formula One with exclusive contracts with teams. Porsche was returning to run a turbo engine with McLaren, and BMW was going to supply Brabham for the next season. Along with Ferrari, Renault and Hart (supplying the Toleman team) this would make a total of four turbo manufacturers in Formula One for the next season, compared to only three conventional engine manufacturers: Ford Cosworth, Alfa Romeo and Matra. Two other major surprises were revealed to the world: Niki Lauda would be coming out of retirement to drive the following season for McLaren and Alan Jones would retire.
This season was one of the most competitive in Formula One history, with 11 drivers winning for seven teams in only 16 races. Keke Rosberg was eventually crowned champion, but he had won only one race. There was again a brief flare-up of conflict between FOCA and FISA over a new practice of using 'water-cooled brakes' - a few teams put large water tanks into the car and then allowed the water to leak out so, when the car crossed the line, it was lighter than the weight limit would allow. Tragedy would also strike again this year, with Ferrari seemingly prone to bad fortune.
The season started off in South Africa, with Alain Prost winning for Renault. He repeated this feat at the second race, in Brazil (a race that was Carlos Reutemann's last), but only after Piquet and Rosberg were disqualified for using the water-cooled brakes. In protest, the FOCA teams boycotted the next race, in San Marino, which was the scene of Didier Pironi's first win in a Ferrari over Villeneuve, though apparently there had been agreement between the two before the race that should have resulted in the win going to Villeneuve. During qualifying for the next race, Villeneuve was killed in a massive crash when he collided with the slow-moving March 821 of Jochen Mass and, out of respect, Pironi's car was withdrawn. John Watson went on to win the race for McLaren.
Ford-powered cars then won the next three races, with Ricardo Patrese winning in Monaco, Watson at the new Detroit track and Piquet in Canada. Of note in the Detroit race was home-town favourite Eddie Cheever, who finished second. The race in Canada was again marred by tragedy, when Pironi stalled his Ferrari on the grid and was rammed by Riccardo Paletti in the Osella FA1C. Paletti was killed instantly. Pironi was unhurt and went on to win the next race at Zandvoort.
Lauda made his comeback a true show when he went on to win the British Grand Prix in his McLaren. The next race was a Renault sweep on their home track, with Arnoux taking first and Prost second, though it had been agreed that Prost would win as he was higher in the standings. Arnoux's failure to follow orders greatly angered the team.
At this point, going into the German Grand Prix, Pironi was leading the championship but, during practice, he was involved in a major crash with Prost that sent him rolling end over end and resulted in serious leg injuries. Ferrari did, however, have something to be happy about that weekend, with Patrick Tambay - Villeneuve's replacement - winning his first race. The German Grand Prix was also the first time in which a team, Brabham, started their cars on half tanks knowing they would have to pit for fuel in the middle of the race. Elio de Angelis won the next race for Lotus, their first in several seasons, in Austria. Rosberg then won his only race of the season at the French Grand Prix, putting him into the championship lead. Mario Andretti filled in for Pironi at Monza and qualified on pole, pleasing the home crowd. In the end, however, it was Arnoux in the Renault winning over Tambay and Andretti. At the last race of the season, Tyrell was able to steal a win thanks to Michele Alboreto, the first for him and the first for the team since 1978.
Rosberg won his one and only title thanks to his consistently finishing in the points. Other than him, no other driver the whole season scored points in more than seven out of the 16 races, while Rosberg had 10 point-scoring finishes. Ferrari won the World's Manufacturers' Championship, a small consolation for the loss of two drivers and an involvement in another fatal crash. This was also the first season that turbo engines had won the same amount as normally aspirated engines - eight apiece. The final bolt of tragedy waited a long time to strike this season, however. It was announced during winter testing for the following season that the pioneer of aerodynamics and chassis design, and founder of Lotus, Colin Bruce Chapman had died of a heart attack at the age of 54.
Four years since the first turbo win, a turbo car took the title. It was not a Renault, but the BMW-powered Brabham at the hands of Piquet. Honda and TAG-Porsche introduced their new turbo engines and the Ford Cosworth V-8 had its 155th - and final - victory. Not bad considering that it was still only an evolution of the original engine from 1967.
New rules came into effect that required the underside of cars to be flattened, thus eliminating skirts and much of the downforce on the cars, and making actual wings much more important.
Nelson Piquet opened the season with a win at his home race - the Brazilian Grand Prix - over Niki Lauda, proving that his time off had not dulled his edge. John Watson then won the US Grand Prix West in Long Beach for McLaren, starting from the eleventh row of the grid, truly a difficult task on the twisting streets. Alain Prost won his home race in France again for the home team of Renault over Piquet and the other Renault, driven this year by American Eddie Cheever. Tambay won the San Marino Grand Prix for home favourite Ferrari while Rosberg took the next race in Monaco with his Ford-powered Williams, one of the last victories for the normally aspirated engine. This also made five different winners from five different teams in five races, showing just how competitive Formula One had become.
The first repeat winner of the year was Alain Prost, who won on the now shortened Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which had been cut to practically half of its former length. The next race was held on the street circuit in Detroit and was the scene of the last victory for the Ford Cosworth V-8. Michele Alboreto won in his Tyrell, giving Ford a sweep of all the street races of the year. Arnoux won the following race in Montreal at the wheel of his new drive at Ferrari, making him the seventh different winner in eight races. Arnoux and Prost then alternated wins for the next four races, with Arnoux winning at Hockenheim and Zandvoort, and Prost winning at Silverstone and in Austria. It looked as though Prost was set to take the first title of his career but, at the end of the season, the Brabham BMW came to power and swept the last three races, with Piquet winning at Monza and Brands Hatch, and Patrese winning at Kyalami.
This late season charge by Piquet, coupled with his reliability and Prost's misfortune late in the season, allowed him to steal the title by just two points over Prost, with the Ferraris of Arnoux and Tambay behind. At the end of the season, almost every team that could afford to switched to turbo engines, which were now developing around 800 horsepower, whereas a normally aspirated engine might be able to produce 550hp if lucky.
At the end of the season it was announced that Prost would be leaving Renault - as a result of team conflicts - and joining McLaren, who had a new car and the new TAG - Porsche engine, a promising combination.
The new McLaren MP4/2 dominated the season, taking 13 of the 17 races. Also by this point, every team but Tyrrell had changed to turbo engines with their massive amounts of horsepower. Pitstops for fuel were also done away with for this year and the fuel capacity of the tanks was reduced, making gas mileage even more important. The championship was, however, the closest in history, with Niki Lauda completing his comeback by winning the title by half a point over Alain Prost in the other McLaren.
The season opened with the Brazilian Grand Prix and a win for Prost. Along with Prost's win came the first victims of the new fuel limitations, when most of the field either ran out of gas or were forced to slow down drastically to make it to the finish of the race. South Africa was the scene of the next race and Lauda's first season success. Ferrari then took their only win of the year at Zolder, with Michele Alboreto driving the winning car. The end of the next race was dramatic, with many of the leading cars running out of gas at Imola. Prost took the win over Arnoux's Ferrari and de Angelis's new Renault Lotus, which had actually run out of fuel and coasted across the line.
The French Grand Prix was won by Lauda, with the next race won by Prost in highly controversial circumstances. The Monaco Grand Prix was ended prematurely because of bad weather and so only half points were awarded to the finishers - instead of nine points, Prost received four and a half for the win. The controversy came from the fact that Jackie Ickx, former Porsche driver and now race steward for the event, was accused of ending the race in Porsche's - and Alain Prost's - favour. If it had not been ended, a new young driver named Ayrton Senna, who was flying through the field and was about to pass Prost, would have claimed an upset victory in a Hart-powered Toleman.
The next two races, held in Montreal and Detroit, fell to Piquet in the generally unreliable Brabham BMW machine. Dallas was the next city to hold a race, and this new street circuit was in extremely poor condition. Keke Rosberg took his only win of the season and the only win for the Honda-powered Williams. The last seven of the races were dominated by McLaren, with Lauda winning at Brands Hatch, the Osterreichring (his first home victory) and Monza, and Prost winning at Hockenheim, the Nurburgring, Zandvoort and Estoril.
Due to the events in Monaco, Prost ended only half a point behind Lauda, who claimed his third title. There was some consolation for Prost, however, in the form of a new record for wins in a single season: seven. A surprise third in the championship was Elio de Angelis in the Lotus Renault, which was never fast enough to win races but was reliable enough to finish in the points more than any other car. McLaren also duly took home the manufacturers' title for the year with their stunning 12 - race winning car. Also at the end of the season all teams switched to turbo engines, and a small new team - Minardi - that was to become a presence, although not a strength, in Formula One appeared.
This season saw the first ever French champion, Alain Prost. He won five races, failed to finish in only four out of the 16, and had a podium placing in all but one of the races he finished. Lotus and Williams finally returned to form this year, taking seven races between them. The form of Brabham and BMW had begun to slip, with the BMW engine becoming less and less reliable. Horsepower figures for the top engines also began to approach insane figures of 1100hp in qualifying and 900hp in racing conditions. This season was also Niki Lauda's last - at the end of the season he retired for the second and final time.
The season opened in Brazil with Alain Prost taking the victory, carrying the momentum over from last season. Senna then won the next race at Estoril in the rain, in only his second race in his new Lotus, the team finally returning to consistent winning form again. Elio de Angelis then continued for Lotus by taking the chequered flag at Imola. He won more through reliability and luck, however, as both Stefan Johansson (Ferrari) and Senna ran out of fuel while leading, and Prost's car, when weighed after the race, was 2kg under the 540kg limit and so was disqualified. Prost, however, got his revenge over Michele Alboreto - who already had three second place finishes this season - at the next race, in Monaco.
Alboreto finally took his first win of the season in Canada. There was then a brief period of no wins for McLaren, with Rosberg (Williams Honda) winning in Detroit, and Piquet (the new Brabham) winning in France. Prost then came back strong at Silverstone by winning the race and lapping the entire field. Alboreto struck back with a win at the Nurburgring, though it would be his last win of the season. McLaren then won the next three races, with Prost winning in Austria, Lauda taking his last win at Zandvoort, and Prost winning again at Monza. Senna then won the next race, held in Belgium, ahead of Nigel Mansell in a Williams. Mansell would go on to win his first race next time out at one of his home tracks, Brands Hatch. He also won after that in South Africa, with his teammate Rosberg taking the final race of the season in Australia.
Nigel Mansell ended his season on a high note and would attempt to continue his form at Williams with new teammate, Piquet, who was joining Williams after Rosberg left to fill Lauda's spot at McLaren. Renault also surprised the racing world by announcing it would be leaving Formula One as a factory team and, until 1987, would supply engines to a select few teams, including Lotus. Alfa Romeo also decided to take a break for the next season, eventually returning in 1987 with a new four-cylinder engine.
The Williams Honda team came into its own this season, capturing nine races between its drivers and taking the constructors' title. Prost, in a McLaren, however, was able to take the title from the Williams drivers due to his amazing reliability. Nigel Mansell finished second behind Prost by two points while taking home five wins and two poles, capitalizing on his successes in the previous year. Ferrari and Brabham struggled, while the former Toleman team - now known as Benetton Formula Ltd7 - with BMW had its first of many successes this season. Fuel capacity was also reduced further to 195 litres, making mileage even more important.
Nelson Piquet won the first race of the season in his home country of Brazil in his first drive for Williams. Senna then took the next race, at the new Jerez circuit, by only half a car's length over Mansell. Prost then won the next two races: Imola, with his car running out of fuel on the final lap, and Monaco. Shortly after Monaco, tragedy struck Formula One again when Elio de Angelis was killed at the Paul Ricard circuit in a testing incident in the Brabham. The circuit was shortened as a result.
The next seven races were controlled by the Williams drivers, with Mansell winning two in a row in Belgium and Canada, Senna scoring an upset win in Detroit, and Mansell winning two more in France and England. Piquet then took his turn by taking the wins at Hockenheim and the new Hungaroring. The race at Hockenheim was the first time that both McLarens failed to finish - a result of fuel problems - with Prost stopping only about 100m from the finish. Also at Hockenheim it was announced that Rosberg was retiring at the end of the season and that Honda would be powering Lotus next season.
Prost finally returned to the winners' circle in Austria where the new Benetton team found speed, and both drivers led the race. Williams' cars won the next two races, with Piquet winning in Italy, and Mansell in Portugal. In the second-to-last race of the season, a new driver and team claimed a win - Gerhard Berger driving for Benetton won in Mexico and, amazingly, the team never once had to stop to change the Pirelli tyres on the car. A whole race without a single stop for tyres is truly astounding. Prost won the final race of the year in Australia, giving him his second title. Prost, however, owed his title to luck, for Mansell had been leading the race and was on his way to the title when a tyre blew near the end of the race. This was McLaren's third straight drivers' title.
BMW decided at the end of the season to continue in Formula One, despite its previous plan to retire, and would continue to provide engines for Brabham for the following season.
This season began the demise of the turbo engine in Formula One. Turbo engines still won every single race, but now they had pop-off valves, designed to reduce the power of a turbocharged engine. In addition, new regulations for normally aspirated engines came into effect, allowing 3.5 litre engines a lower weight for the car. Also this year the first Concorde Agreement was signed between the teams and the FIA. This agreement settled the distribution of television money, track contracts, rules, regulations and travel money. The agreement ended the major disputes between the FIA and FOCA and would last until 1991. Also in the news was the fact that Fiat had bought Alfa Romeo and would be ending Alfa Romeo's engine programme, because Fiat did not want more competition for its other Formula One team: Ferrari.
The season opener in Brazil was won by Prost in convincing fashion over Nelson Piquet. Piquet was forced to miss the next race, at Imola, after a heavy crash, so he ended up in the announcers' booth calling his team-mate Nigel Mansell's victory over Senna in the new Lotus. The new Lotus was the first Formula One car to use computer-controlled active suspension designed to help keep the car on the road. Prost returned to the winner's place on the podium the next time out, in Belgium, after a crash eliminated Mansell and Senna. Also in Belgium it was announced that Lamborghini would be building a Formula One engine for the next season and that it would a be a normally aspirated V-12. Senna then won the next race, in Monaco, giving the new Lotus and active suspension their first race win. Senna then made it two in a row by taking the street race in Detroit for Lotus too.
Next it was Mansell's turn to win two in a row by taking the chequered flag in France and England. In England it was a Honda top four with Williams cars taking the first two places, followed by both Lotus cars. After Mansell's two wins, Piquet continued the Williams success by taking the wins in Germany and Hungary. Mansell then took the next race, held in Austria, which had to be restarted twice because of accidents at the start. Also in Austria, McLaren driver Stefan Johansson was lucky to escape injury in practice when he ran into, of all things to hit in a Formula One car, a deer.
The next race, at Monza, saw the debut of active suspension in the Williams, and Piquet drove it to victory on its first time out. Monza was also the scene of the announcement that, starting next season, Honda would no longer supply Williams and that they would instead supply McLaren and their new driver for the next season: Senna.
Prost finally took another win in Portugal, his 28th, making him the most successful driver of all time at that point. Portugal was also the first pole since 1985 for Ferrari, whose programme was starting to come back together. Mansell then returned to the top, winning the next two races, in Spain and Mexico, bringing his total of wins for the season up to six, with eight poles. Going into the penultimate race, in Japan, Mansell still had a chance to catch Piquet for the title but, during practice, Mansell had a serious crash that sidelined him for the race, handing Piquet his third title. Berger went on to win the race for Ferrari, their first win since 1985. Berger also won the last race of the year, at Adelaide, by qualifying on pole and leading every lap.
Though Mansell had dominated the season in terms of victories and poles, his more consistent teammate, Piquet, was champion as a result of having finished on the podium 11 times, including three wins and seven second-place finishes. The constructors' title went to Williams again this year over McLaren and Lotus. The Jim Clark Cup for the highest scoring driver with a normally aspirated engine went to Jonathan Palmer in his Tyrrell. Tyrrell also won the Colin Chapman cup for the highest finishing team with normally aspirated engines.
If any season belonged to one team, this was it. McLaren, between Prost and Senna, won all but one race, which fell to Ferrari when both McLarens failed to finish. Senna won his first title, taking home eight first places and 13 pole positions. Prost took a respectable seven wins and two poles. McLaren ended the season with 10 one-two finishes. The departure of Honda and the choice to use Judd engines dropped Williams down the grid to mid-field. Ferrari had developed the previous year's car, but it was still no match for McLaren.
Prost began McLaren's 11-race-winning streak at the opener, in Brazil, ahead of the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger. The McLaren drivers then alternated wins, with Senna winning at Imola, Prost in Monaco and Mexico, then back to Senna winning in Montreal and Detroit. Prost then won in France, after which Senna won the next four races, in England, Germany, Hungary and Belgium. In Italy, one month after Ferrari patriarch Enzo Ferrari had passed away, Ferrari celebrated a one-two finish, with Berger taking the win ahead of Alboreto. Prost then won the next two races, at Estoril and Jerez, with Senna returning to the top in Japan before Prost took the final race of the year in Australia.
The season was a complete blowout, with McLaren taking the constructors' title with a record 199 points for the team. Next closest was Ferrari with only 65. This was also to be the last year that turbocharged engines were allowed, so every team that had used turbo engines this season would be forced to adapt. Also this season the Minardi team scored its first points after several years of trying, with Andrea de Cesaris taking fourth and Pierluigi Martini taking sixth in Detroit.
This season saw the return of normally aspirated 3.5 litre engines as the standard. Ford returned to the winners' circle for the first time since 1983, but Honda was still the engine to beat, taking 10 wins this season. Renault also returned to the contest with a new engine formula and won two races in the Williams chassis. This season also saw the greatest amount of participation in Formula One, with 20 teams and 39 drivers attempting to make the 26 starting positions. This made pre-qualifying sessions necessary to narrow down the field.
The season opened with a surprise win in Brazil by Nigel Mansell in the new Ferrari, with a semi-automatic gearbox that nobody expected to survive race conditions. A surprise third place in Brazil was home-town driver Mauricio Gugelmin, bringing the Judd-powered March team their only points of the year. The next race, at Imola, was the scene of a fiery crash for Gerhard Berger, who was lucky to be rescued and would miss only one race. Imola was also a McLaren sweep, with Senna winning ahead of Prost. This began a three-race-winning streak for Senna when he also picked up the wins in Monaco and Mexico. Prost then came back and won the first race held on the streets of Phoenix in Arizona.
Rain struck in Canada and Thierry Boutsen was able to give the Williams Renault its first victory of the season when Senna dropped out due to engine trouble. McLaren then had another run of three victories, with Prost taking the chequered flag in France and England, and Senna winning in the rain in Germany. Of note in France was the appearance of a new driver for Tyrell by the name of Jean Alesi, who would win the European Formula 3000 Championship this year and would also score his first Formula One points with a fourth in his first race.
Hungary was the scene of an epic duel when Mansell, who had only qualified midfield in the Ferrari, fought his way up through the field on the twisty circuit and eventually passed Senna for his second win of the season. Senna again showed his ability to master wet conditions and won in Belgium, but Prost followed with a win at Monza ahead of Berger, who finally scored some points after 10 retirements for the season. Berger continued his new-found success with a win at Estoril and a second in the next race, in Spain, behind Senna.
Alessandro Nannini got his first win in the Benetton Ford under strange circumstances in Japan. Senna - who needed to win in Japan and in the final race in Australia to take the title - collided with Prost going into a chicane, and Prost got out of his car assuming that he was champion. Senna had his car push-started and rejoined the race, eventually fighting his way back to what he thought was a win. After the race, however, he was disqualified and, when McLaren protested to the FIA, the FIA brought up all of Senna's previous contact-related incidents during the year, of which there had been many, and fined Senna US$100,000 and placed a six-month suspended ban on him. Nannini was confirmed winner after the appeal.
Thierry Boutsen scored his second win of the season in torrential rain at Adelaide after most other cars had crashed out in the dismal conditions. Prost claimed his third world title due to his consistency, and Senna had to be content with six wins and 13 poles for the season. It was also announced that next season Prost and Berger would be switching positions, with the Frenchman going to the now reliable Ferrari team in the hope of securing a title with them. Lamborghini was hoping for better luck next season after scoring only one point in their debut season, and most of the other teams were also hoping to close the gap to the top teams of McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and Benetton, which dominated every race.