After fourteen rounds of the 1989 F1 season, Alain Prost led the championship with four wins and a sixteen point advantage, while Ayrton Senna had six wins and needed a victory to keep the title battle alive to Adelaide, highlighting how consistency is key in a year-long fight with your teammate.
Prost realised in practice that the Mclarens were a class above the field and that he could qualify on the front row of the grid with his car being setup for the race rather than qualifying, giving him an advantage over his teammate, who was focused on claiming first on the grid.
Senna took pole position while Prost completed the front row lockout in second. The next row of the grid was Ferrari territory, with Gerhard Berger looking poised to challenge the Mclarens in third after his win at Estoril, and Mansell behind him in fourth.
Both Mclarens got away well, but it was Prost who made it to turn one in first place; Berger looked to attack Senna but inevitably ran out of room on the outside line. Later in the race the two Ferraris broke down from gearbox and engine failures, confirming the team’s unreliability that year. From the off Alain pulled out a gap and held it at around five seconds for the first half of the race. The pair traded fastest lap times leading up to the first round of pit stops and the gap was five seconds as the Frenchman came into the pits. The Brazilian pitted the lap after but the pit crew took about two seconds longer on the reigning World Champion’s car.
From that point on, Ayrton was on the offensive and began closing the five second gap. By lap 40 he had closed to within a second of Alain and began the assault on the Frenchman, what the Brazilian didn’t know was that Prost had slowed down deliberately so that Senna had to use up his fresh tyres battling for the lead.
Six laps later and Senna was still attacking the Professor, he closed up into the double-apex spoon corner, used the slipstream down the back straight and had a brilliant run through 130R to put himself right behind his teammate heading into the chicane. This began one of the most iconic moments in Grand Prix history, Alain closed the door as Ayrton squeezed down the inside and they inevitably collided. Murray Walker’s famous quote “This is fantastic!” summed up what everyone was thinking.
Prost immediately jumped out of his Mclaren-Honda MP4/5 while Senna restarted with the help of the marshals crucially taking to the escape road and cutting the chicane in the process. He completed another lap then pitted for a new front wing, after coming in to replace his nose-cone Ayrton re-joined the race five seconds behind Alessandro Nannini with five laps to go.
Senna closed the gap within two laps of the pit stop and passed the Italian at the same chicane where he had just collided with Prost. Nannini didn’t give in but wasn’t willing to cause an accident over the position, this meant Senna slipped past at the chicane and went on to win the race three laps later.
As soon as the race finished the FIA disqualified Senna for cutting the chicane and Nannini was awarded the race victory. McLaren appealed this decision making it clear that it was not an attempt to stop Prost winning the championship (as he was moving to Ferrari for 1990) but that it meant a loss in prize money for the team. The decision was upheld and an additional six month ban and fine were given to the Brazilian. This ended one of if not the most fiercely fought and exciting teammate battles in the history of the sport and it remains an iconic moment to all F1 fans.