It was Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost for the third season in a row. As in 1988, the Brazilian took the spoils, with no-one else in sight. But at one time it looked as though he wasn't going to be allowed to start the World Championship at all.
The trouble between Senna and the authorities stemmed from his clash with Prost in Japan in 1989, and the fact that he then accused FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre of manipulating the title and was subsequently refused entry for 1990. It was only with the first race in sight that Senna was readmitted.
With no love lost between Prost and Senna after their collision at Suzuka at the end of 1989, perhaps it was a good thing that they were no longer in the same team, with the Frenchman having left McLaren to join Ferrari to partner Nigel Mansell, with Gerhard Berger going in the opposite direction.
Williams kept Thierry Boutsen and Riccardo Patrese on its books, while Benetton welcomed Nelson Piquet from Lotus, with Satoru Nakajima also leaving to race for Tyrrell, joining Jean Alesi who'd been impressing the team since he finished fourth on his debut half way through 1989. In their place, Lotus signed Derek Warwick and rookie Martin Donnelly who'd made a one-off appearance for Arrows in the 1989 French Grand Prix.
Michele Alboreto had also left Tyrrell and he moved to Arrows, while Ligier replaced Rene Arnoux and Olivier Grouillard with Philippe Alliot and Nicola Larini, with Grouillard downgrading to Osella. Rial and Zakspeed had quit, with only the Life team coming in, albeit to make almost no impression as neither Gary Brabham nor Bruno Giacomelli could qualify their car. This Italian team failed to see out the season. Trick fuels were all the rage, with the top teams and the fuel suppliers introducing "aromatics" as they played around with fuel chemistry in their quest for extra horsepower. For most teams, though, what they really needed was the Honda engine enjoyed by McLaren or that in the Ferraris.
It came as no surprise that Senna starred at the opening race around the streets of Phoenix. However, he was pushed hard by Alesi, who put his Tyrrell into the lead on the opening lap and stayed there until the halfway point. Senna tracked him down, took the lead, was re-passed, but then pulled clear. Boutsen was third in his Williams, while Prost climbed to fourth then retired.
Senna was set for victory in Brazil when contact with Nakajima forced him to pit for a new nose, confining him to third behind Prost and Berger. Patrese ended a seven-year drought to win at Imola. Senna led from pole but a stone jammed in his brakes and he spun off, while Prost came fourth behind Berger and Benetton's Nannini. Then Senna dominated at Monaco, chased by Alesi's nimble Tyrrell.
Berger jumped the start in Canada and was penalized a minute. With time to make up, Senna waved Berger by. Yet, although he finished 45 seconds clear, he was classified only fourth, as Senna won.
Prost qualified 13th in Mexico, but he drove a patient race to win on a track that ate tyres. Senna led for 60 laps, but had a puncture, with Mansell completing a Ferrari one-two. Prost won at Paul Ricard after Capelli had led for Leyton House, a team that had never scored a point, taking the lead with three laps to go.
Mansell announced at Silverstone that he would retire at the end of the year, while Prost won after Mansell had retired with gearbox problems and Boutsen took second with Senna coming back from a spin for third.
Hockenheim was next, and it was Senna's turn to win after struggling to re-pass Nannini who ran non-stop to the Brazilian's one planned stop. Senna was pipped by Boutsen in Hungary, having taken off Nannini shortly before the flag. The Brazilian then won as he pleased in Belgium, with only Prost keeping him company.Warwick's Lotus was destroyed at Monza. Amazingly, he ran back to the pits and took the spare car for the restart, which Senna won from Prost. Senna then beat Prost in Belgium.
Mansell left his mark in Portugal by chopping Prost at the start, causing him to lift off and fall to fifth. This left Mansell to motor to victory, from Senna and Prost, with the French ace winning at Jerez, gaining valuable points as Senna retired.
The meeting was marred by Donnelly suffering really dreadful injuries when he crashed in practice, being thrown headlong from his obliterated Lotus.
Senna and Prost clashed again at Suzuka, this time on the first lap. Both were out on the spot, giving Senna the title. Then the quarrels began. Almost obscured by this drama, Piquet led home a Benetton one-two ahead of Roberto Moreno who had replaced Nannini who had severed one of his hands in a helicopter mishap.
Piquet won in Australia. Mansell and Prost were second and third, Senna having crashed from the lead.
Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books