While today there are only 20 cars from 10 teams on the Formula One starting grid, things were very different 30 years ago…
Before the start of the 1989 Formula One season, FISA (International Federation of Motor Sports), responsible for the main category in motor sports at the time, revealed a list of drivers registered for the championship boasting 42 names and 21 teams. The number would be unthinkable today, but it was just above average at the time, since races had pre-qualifying heats in which drivers were knocked-out before the main event.
In 1988, for instance, there were 36 drivers registered to race in Formula One. The world champion was Ayrton Senna, who won 8 races with McLaren and secured his first F1 title at Suzuka, in Japan. In the following year, Ayrton would drive the #1 car and, once again, his main rival would be Frenchman Alain Prost.
The first GP in 1989 took place at Jacarepaguá in Rio de Janeiro. With 38 cars registered to race, 13 of them took part in the pre-qualifying sessions, and only five would be advancing to the time-trials, along with the 25 previously qualified drivers. That meant 30 cars were fighting for 26 spots in the main race.
The pole position went to Ayrton Senna, who was much faster than his rivals in the qualifying sessions. With 1min25s302, the Brazilian beat Patrese (Williams), who would start in second, by 0s870. Prost would be starting in a modest 5th position, 1s318 behind Senna.
In the race, Senna’s dream of winning the Brazilian GP for the first time was crushed even before he reached the first corner. Senna was “boxed in” by Patrese and Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) at the start. The Brazilian driver lost his front spoiler in the collision and his first win in the season would have to wait until the following race, in a head-to-head duel with Prost.
Check out the names of all 42 drivers registered for the 1989 F1 season in a newspaper article (portuguese) from back then.