The Vault

Ayrton Senna (McLaren-Honda MP4/5) Takes Portier

The Vault – My column where I take the pictures from the wall of my writing studio and tell the story behind the camera. This week I go back to 1989 and the Monaco Grand Prix

Monaco, the playground of the successful. A glamourous setting where the rich and famous for one weekend mix with the ardent Formula One fans who make the trip to this principality.

The above photograph taken from the wall of my writing studio is the next topic for The Vault.

Portier and the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix.

After the hairpin, which changes it’s name based on what hotel is present at the time of a specific Grand Prix, the cars head downhill to the double right-hander just before the famous tunnel. This is Portier. It is set in a neighbourhood of Monaco next to the sea which gives it a beautiful backdrop. The corner is called portier, or porter in English, which was the lowest order of Roman Catholic seminarians or students in simple terms.

In the Monaco Grand Prix a year earlier, with Senna gliding round to head into the tunnel, it was a completely different story for the Brazilian. In 1988 he had opened up a huge lead, completely dominating the race, when he was told by McLaren to back-off. He lost concentration and went straight on into the barrier on the outside of Portier, which handed victory to Prost. He was so upset with this mistake that he left Monaco straight away, refusing to speak to anybody.

In the race before Monaco, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Gerhard Berger had suffered a brake problem which saw him go off at Tamburello. The resulting crash caused him to have broken ribs, shoulder and burns to face and hands. Ferrari decided they were not going to replace Berger and so had just Nigel Mansell entered for the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix.

Senna, looking to make up for his 1988 mistake, took pole with a massive one second time difference over his teammate Alain Prost. This is made famous by the video showing THAT lap, in which Martin Brundle commented afterwards drivers out on track at the time decided to slow and jump out of the way, not wanting to spoil this epic qualifying performance.

Thierry Boutsen was on the second row behind Senna and Prost, he was joined by an impressive Martin Brundle in the Brabham. The Coloni-Ford team got both their cars, Roberto Moreno and Pierre-Henri Raphanel, into the race for their only time at Monaco. During qualification it became apparent that the Pirelli tyre was performing better than the Goodyear.

Senna got a brilliant start off the line, leaving Prost no other option but to just settle into second without even mounting a challenge. The Williams cars of Boutsen and Patrese would find themselves both coming into the pits to have the rear wings changed on their cars. Mansell, in the lone Ferrari entry, suffered gearbox problems which had been plaguing the team and he was out of the race on Lap 20.

Thirteen laps later Andre de Cesaris in his Dallara-Ford went to pass Nelson Piquet in his Camel sponsored Lotus-Judd up the inside at the Loews Hairpin, only for them to come together. They blocked the circuit which caused chaos behind them. De Cesaris was furiously shouting at Piquet from his car. Prost was held up in this chaos which allowed Senna to go dancing off into the distance.

Senna continued to dominate the race with fans and the team hoping there would not be a repeat of his crash at Portier the year before. Prost eventually got going again, but he was again held up by Rene Arnox in the Ligier. Arnoux would comment that he was unable to go faster which prompted the famous quote by James Hunt calling it “bullshit”. It was the McLaren of Senna who took the spoils at Monaco, Prost came home in second and it was the surprise package of Stefano Modena in the Brabham-Judd who completed the top three. This would be the last time a Brabham car would finish on any podium in Formula One.

What made this Senna victory even more impressive was the fact that in the latter stages of the race he had lost first and second gears. He tried to disguise his problems whilst lapping the streets of Monaco so as not to alert Prost who he felt would have pushed harder to put pressure on the Brazilian if he had known.

The 1989 Monaco Grand Prix and that Portier photograph I have. Full of back-stories and drama. As I say, every picture on my wall tells a story.

See You At The Chequered Flag.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

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