The 1990 Mexican Grand Prix served up a wonderful race. The event had been dominated by the McLaren duo of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988 and 1989, but for 1990 Prost was now driving for Ferrari after his acrimonious departure from McLaren.
It was Senna’s McLaren teammate Gerhard Berger who took pole however, with Riccardo Patrese lining up alongside him in second place for Williams. Senna was a disappointed third place, with Nigel Mansell alongside him for Ferrari.
If Senna was disappointed, things looked worse for Prost, with the second Ferrari down in 13th place. Prost had lost time on Friday after he spun off, and had determined to ensure his car had the best possible race setup on Saturday, but he would have plenty of work to do from that far back. As the light went green Patrese shot past Berger off the line, with Senna slotting in behind his team-mate before diving past him into the first corner. Mansell lost ground in the run up to the first corner, with Thierry Boutsen in the second Williams and Nelson Piquet in the Benetton getting past him. Patrese’s glory would be short lived, Senna and Berger swooping past him on the straight in one go at the start of lap 2 as the Williams started to drop backwards.
Senna scampered off into the lead, building a comfortable gap from Berger who could not keep pace with him. Berger had to pit by lap 13 as his tyres were not performing, dropping him down the field. Piquet’s Benetton was up into second place as the Williams struggled with their tyres. After a poor start, the Ferrari’s were recovering, with Mansell working his back up past the Williams and into second past Nelson Piquet, Mansell feigning to go wide then cutting back up the inside of Piquet on the straight. Prost was also making steady progress through the field from his low grid slot, and with Piquet struggling to make his tyres go the distance, Prost was soon past him as well. Piquet was forced to call time on his attempt to do the race without stopping, and pitted for fresh rubber shortly after Prost got through. Prost was flying now, and he set about closing down a 7 second gap to team-mate Mansell for second place, although Senna looked out of sight a further 15 seconds up the road. Prost quickly bridged the gap to teammate Mansell, and on lap 55 Prost seized his chance as Mansell was slowed coming round the Peraltada as they lapped traffic, Prost using his better exit to squeeze past Mansell down the inside as they came down the straight, Mansell making him go all the way inside as they lapped a further backmarker, but Prost was through.
Senna next in his sights. Senna was still some 10 seconds up the road, but trying to run without a pit-stop Senna was suddenly struggling with his tyres – but it was not just degredation, Senna had a slow-puncture, and he was helpless as one by one the Ferrari’s caught and passed him, Prost getting him on the straight on lap 61 and Mansell passing him the following lap, with Senna’s right rear tyre eventually bursting and removing him from the race altogether. Prost now led from Mansell, and any hope Mansell had of challenging for the win quickly evaporated, as Mansell spun his Ferrari on lap 64. Mansell was able to roll back onto the track and get going again, but instead of fighting for the win he was now under pressure from Berger’s McLaren, the polesitter having worked his way back through the field after his early stop for tyres.
Berger was determined, and coming down the straight made his move on Mansell, coming a long way back on the inside, braking late and locking up, smoking his tyres as he barged past, Mansell forced to back out and leave room, as Berger climbed over the kerbs on the inside of the first corner and took second place. But Mansell was not finished, and while his spin may have cost him any hope of the victory, he was determined not to let Berger simply brush him aside. Mansell stayed with Berger, the two going wheel to wheel around the track as Mansell tried to get his revenge. Berger denied him initially, but on the second last lap Mansell pulled off a spectacular move, moving his Ferrari around the outside of Berger’s McLaren on the approach to the Peraltada, Mansell somehow taming his Prancing Horse and keeping it on the track to swoop back into second place!
It was Ferrari’s day, Prost’s drive through the field had earned him a deserved victory, while Mansell had sealed a Ferrari 1-2 with a memorable move on Berger. A tough day for McLaren, with Senna having lost what seemed a certain victory, and Berger unfortunate after being forced to stop early but delivering a stirring comeback drive.