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Ayrton Senna effectively clinched his third World Championship for McLaren-Honda by winning the first four races of the year, while Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese struggled to sort their state-of-the-art but still unreliable Williams-Renaults. The Brazilian sealed the series with three more victories, including the wet and shortened Australian Grand Prix. With the championship won, Senna pulled over at the last corner of the Japanese GP to let Gerhard Berger win his first race for McLaren.
Mansell came tantalisingly close to winning in Canada, only to retire on the last corner, handing victory to Nelson Piquet’s Benetton. The Williams-Renaults finally held together in Mexico, but it was Patrese who took the victory. Although Mansell eventually scored the first of five wins in France, he was unable to close the points gap to Senna.
Ferrari had a poor year and team leader Alain Prost was dropped for the final race after publicly criticising the organisation. It was the first year since his debut season in 1980 that Prost had failed to win a Grand Prix. Jean Alesi came closest to giving Ferrari victory but retired while leading in Belgium. Tyrrell replaced Alesi with Stefano Modena and switched to Honda V10 power. Modena’s second-place in Montreal was the highlight in an otherwise disappointing season.
Eddie Jordan’s 7Up-sponsored team made a major impact in its first Formula 1 season. Andrea de Cesaris might have won at Spa-Francorchamps but for engine failure in the closing laps. Bertrand Gachot also showed promise before being jailed prior to the Belgian GP for spraying CS gas into the face of a London taxi driver. Gachot was replaced by young Mercedes-Benz sports car driver Michael Schumacher and the German proved so sensational in practice that Benetton immediately signed him prior to the next race.
Lotus fought back from the brink of liquidation, with Julian Bailey and promising Formula 3 graduate Mika Hakkinen scoring points at Imola.
A new scoring system awarding 10 points for a win was introduced for the first time.