The first F1 race of the year is always eagerly anticipated by fans, especially so motor sports enthusiasts can get to know the teams’ new drivers, new liveries and, maybe take a look at a promising new talents.
In 1990, at the season’s opening GP, in Phoenix (USA), a spectacular duel took place, involving a Brazilian and a Frenchman. Some assumed it was going to be another chapter in the ongoing rivalry involving Senna and Prost, now at Ferrari. But, this time, it was another driver putting Senna’s first win of the year in jeopardy: Jean Alesi, who was only 25.
The qualifying sessions were marked by a surprising rain that fell over the Arizona desert on Saturday, meaning only the Friday times would count. Berger took the pole position, followed by Minardi’s Pierluigi Martini and Dallara’s Andrea de Cesaris, two huge upsets. Ayrton Senna was going to start in the third row, alongside Piquet. It was Senna’s first time out of the first row since the 1988 Silverstone GP, and this time he would be starting in fifth.
On Sunday, however, the race was marked by an unforgettable duel between Senna and Alesi, driving a Tyrell. At the start, Alesi put his best foot forward: he took Berger by surprise and jumped from fourth to first – where he stayed for 34 laps.
Ayrton climbed from fifth to third over the first few laps, and stayed on Berger´s heels for five additional laps. On lap nine, Ayrton took advantage of a mistake by his new teammate, who ended up on the tire barrier, taking the second position. Then, it was time to go after young Alesi. Despite little experience in the category, Alesi didn’t give up the lead so easily.
When Ayrton Senna caught up to Alesi, he felt the Frenchman was wearing out his tires and started applying, pressure. It was the high point of the race. The Brazilian was relentless and, on lap 34, overtook Alesi at the end of the main straight. But the Brazilian couldn’t anticipate that the Frenchman was going to return the favor on the following corner, with a switchback overtake.
On the following lap, the Brazilian doubled down: after they braked together on the same corner, Ayrton Senna lined up his McLaren in the inside lane and even waved, giving goodbye to the valiant Alesi. The Frenchman threatened another switchback, but this time Senna was ready.
On the podium, Alesi joked: “Next time, I’m giving you goodbye”. Thierry Boutsen finished in third and Nelson Piquet was fourth. Afterwards, Ayrton talked about the race and complimented the young driver, who was in his second F1 season: “I was impressed with the way he drove. He kept a clean line, but he was very determined. It was my favorite type of race”, said Senna, who had just started his journey towards his second title.