The start of the 1989 Formula 1 season: the Brazilian Grand Prix at Jacarepagua

F1’s largest entry, announced 35 years ago today, had twice as many drivers as now

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Formula 1 was in a state of change 35 years ago. The explosive but expensive turbo era was over, and a new formula for normally aspirate engines encouraged a raft of new entrants.

When FISA (now the FIA) closed entries for the new season at the end of January, a record 40 cars had signed up. These were drawn from 21 teams in all, two putting forward single-car entries, as was allowed at the time.

The last of those – ironically named First – never made it to the start of the season. Nonetheless 39 cars, one shy of twice today’s entry, turned up for almost all of that years races.

There were three exceptions during the course of the year. AGS driver Philippe Streiff was badly injured in testing, suffering paralysis which ended his grand prix career, so the team only entered a single car for the season-opener.

Start, Jerez, 1989
One-third of the field did not qualify at each race
Ferrari also turned up with just one car on two occasions. Gerhard Berger missed Monaco due to the burns he sustained in a fiery crash at Imola, but was back at the next round. Later in the season Nigel Mansell was banned from taking part in the Spanish Grand Prix after failing to observe a black flag during the previous round in Portugal.

Other drivers swapped teams over the course of the season, and a total of 47 different names appeared. With 39 cars vying for places on a 26-car grid, one-third would not get to start, and qualifying therefore took on far greater significance than today.

An opening ‘pre-qualifying’ session for up to 13 cars from the lowest-ranked teams based on their previous constructors championship positions was held at every round. At first these included the likes of Brabham, who hadn’t contested the 1988 season.

Only four cars progressed from pre-qualifying, meaning nine drivers’ weekends ended at that point. A further four dropped out at the end of the qualifying session. Some never made the cut at all: Aguri Suzuki turned up for all 16 rounds and never once pre-qualified his Zakspeed.

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The prospects of F1 ever allowing a field as large as this again are beyond remote. At present it remains to be seen whether F1 will welcome Andretti as an 11th team, following the approval granted by the FIA last year. Even if that happens the grid will still be four cars short of capacity, so no one need worry about failing to qualify for a race, yet alone pre-qualify.

1989 Formula 1 entry list

TeamDriver 1Driver 2
McLarenAyrton SennaAlain Prost
TyrrellJonathan PalmerMichele Alboreto
WilliamsThierry BoutsenRiccardo Patrese
BrabhamStefano ModenaMartin Brundle
ArrowsEddie CheeverDerek Warwick
LotusNelson PiquetSatoru Nakajima
Leyton HouseMauricio GugelminIvan Capelli
OsellaPiercarlo GhinzaniNicola Larini
BenettonJohnny HerbertAlessandro Nannini
Scuderia ItaliaAlex CaffiAndrea de Cesaris
MinardiLuis Perez-SalaPierluigi Martini
LigierRene ArnouxOlivier Grouillard
FerrariNigel MansellGerhard Berger
LarroussePhilippe AlliotYannick Dalmas
ColoniPierre-Henri RaphanelRoberto Moreno
EuroBrunGregor Foitek
ZakspeedBernd SchneiderAguri Suzuki
OnyxStefan JohanssonBertrand Gachot
RialChristian DannerVolker Weidler
AGSPhilippe StreiffJoachim Winkelhock
FirstGabriele Tarquini

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The F1 field of 1989

Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, McLaren, Monaco, 1989
Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost fought bitterly over the title, the latter winning after they collided controversially at Suzuka
Michele Alboreto, Tyrrell, Phoenix, 1989
Jonathan Palmer was joined by ex-Ferrari driver Michele Alboreto at Tyrrell, though he left mid-season due to a sponsorship clash
Riccardo Patrese, Williams, Jacarepagua, 1989
Williams rebounded from a win-less 1988 with Riccardo Patrese and Thierry Boutsen, the latter scoring two victories

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Derek Warwick, Arrows, Monaco, 1989
Arrows retained Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever as its drivers
Nelson Piquet, Lotus, Hungaroring, 1989
Three-times world champion Nelson Piquet began his final season at Lotus alongside Satoru Nakajima
Ivan Capelli, Leyton House March, Phoenix, 1989
Ivan Capelli and Mauricio Gugelmin wielded March’s influential, Adrian Newey-design CG891s
Nicola Larini, Osella, Imola, 1989
Long-time midfielders Osella persevered with Nicola Larini and Piercarlo Ghinzani

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Johnny Herbert, Benetton, Phoenix, 1989
Despite injuring his ankles in a horrific F300 crash, Johnny Herbert debuted at Benetton alongside Alessandro Nannini, though Emanuele Pirro soon replaced him
Alex Caffi, Scuderia Italia, Estoril, 1989
Scuderia Italia ran Dallara chassis for Alex Caffi and Andrea de Cesaris
Pierluigi Martini, Minardi, Estoril, 1989
Pierluigi Martini and Luis Perez-Sala teamed up at improving Minardi, who even led one race
Rene Arnoux, Ligier, Jacarepagua, 1989
Race-winner Rene Arnoux began his final season at Ligier alongside Olivier Grouillard

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Nigel Mansell, Ferrari, Jacarepagua, 1989
Ferrari entered their first season without founder Enzo, who signed Nigel Mansell to join Gerhard Berger
Philippe Alliot, Larrousse, Jerez, 1989
Larrousse ran Lolas for Philippe Alliot and Yannick Dalmas
Roberto Moreno, Coloni, Jacarepagua, 1989
Roberto Moreno and Pierre-Henri Raphanel laboured to pre-qualifying their Colonis
Gregor Foitek, EuroBrun, Jacarepagua, 1989
Gregor Foitek only pre-qualified the sole EuroBrun in Brazil, where his engine failed in qualifying
Aguri Suzuki, Zakspeed, Jerez, 1989
Aguri Suzuki never pre-qualified the Zakspeed, though team mate Bernd Schneider started twice
Stefan Johansson, Onyx, Estoril, 1989
Experienced Stefan Johansson gave newcomers Onyx a shock podium at Estoril. Newcomer Bertrand Gachot was replaced by JJ Lehto
Christian Danner, Rial, Monaco, 1989
Rial expanded to two cars: Christian Danner took a rare fourth in Phoenix but Volker Weidler never qualified
Joachim Winkelhock, AGS, Jacarepagua, 1989
After the terrible blow of losing Streiff, AGS hired Gabriele Tarquini from the abandoned First entry to partner Joachim Winkelhock

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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18 comments on “F1’s largest entry, announced 35 years ago today, had twice as many drivers as now”

  1. The picture caption seems to imply that Patrese won a race in 1989 but he had to wait until the following year.

    1. Yes that was clumsily worded – revised it now thanks.

  2. Oh, so many beautiful cars. And the amazing Ferrari 640 early version without the top air inlet <3

    The tyre sizes were perfect and the car sizes/dimension were also perfect. 215cm of width, YES!!
    Then they reduced their width to 200cm in 1993, which was ok. Although what wasn't ok was making the rear tyres much narrower.
    For 2 decades from 1998 to 2016 we had the abysmal, absolutely pathetic 180cm narrow, F3 looking F1 cars.
    They fixed that awful error in 2017 bringing the cars width back to 200cm.

    Unfortunately, they're at it again and we're gonna have narrower, 190cm wide cars from 2026 on, bringing F1 cars down to the width of F2 cars. I hate this so much….

  3. I loved Onyx and Rial liveries! Also it was terrifyingly fun to watch the pre qualifying sessions back then! The heroics needed to qualify for some of the backmarkers were incredible! I wish we could have the sessions available on F1TV . I had some obscure VHS from Fuji TV where the season review’s covered the prequalifying sessions (due to Aguri Suzuki presumably), and it was really cool! Also, one of the most fun I had when doing sims was trying to do a full season with Coloni on RFactor 1989 season mod. Just to get thru prequalifying was amazing, and then trying to beat 4 cars in qualifying was very fun. I wish we had a full F1 1989 retro game in modern sim standards, that would be awesome. At least now we can do a bit in Automobilista 2 , where mods are finally bridging the gaps on cars and liveries, but I can only imagine a fully recreated 1989 season in a modern sim. One can dream .

    1. I completely missed the Rfactor 1989 mod – sounds like a fun idea to try and get through a season with one of the weakest teams.
      Maybe time to reinstall it…

  4. That blue Rial looked great.

  5. Not sure F1 needs half a grid that cannot qualify nowadays, running at capacity should be the aim instead.

  6. Wish there were still that many teams and cars. The more the merrier.
    Today’s 20-car-grid looks so miserable, especially in those weekend when F3 are racing with their healthy 30-car-grid. Can’t believe Liberty thinks 10 is an optimal number of team. 13 should be the bare minimum.
    Everyone who wants to join should be allowed to do so without a say from other teams. If there are less than 13 teams, that share of price money should not go to the teams but FIA, who then gives it to new entries as an incentive.

    1. Absolutely!
      Nominate for COTD.

    2. This is the way!

    3. @leksa when you refer to “F3 are racing with their healthy 30-car-grid” – most of that is due to the forced amalgamation of junior series into a far smaller number of championships, which is designed to create a proscribed narrow route for drivers wanting to move through junior series into Formula 1.

  7. I really miss the days where the regulations were open enough that every car looked different with so many different design philosophies & as well as multiple different engine configurations all producing completely different sounds.

    Having a grid full of variety will always be way more interesting than a grid full of practically identical looking cars due to how pathetically restrictive the regulations are now that the show has been put above the sport.

    Same with other categories, I hate how essentially everything below F1 has become spec categories rather than featuring different chassis, engines, tyres etc… as was once the case.

    Indycar is the biggest shame in that regard as the Indycar series of today is a shadow of the CART glory days where it could actually be considered a true alternative to F1 rather than just another spec car lower series as it is now. Tony George & all his cronies should be ashamed of themselves for what they did all in the pursuit of power.

    1. “I really miss the days where the regulations were open enough that every car looked different with so many different design philosophies…”

      Roger, the reality of today is that no matter how wide you would open the regulations, all the cars would look the same regardless. Computer simulations have figured out aerodynamics long time ago.
      It’s no longer a designer coming up with random ideas in the dark. All the teams have the same computers coming to the same conclusions for them. In a very short while all the teams will have AI design the same perfect car for each of them and the variety between designs will be close to zero. Sad but true.

  8. On one hand, I loved having all of those different designs, drivers, and liveries, but yeah….most of those teams were at least 5 seconds off the pace, so it would all be a little disappointing with today’s reliability. But the fact that F1 has consigned itself to only 10 teams is really disappointing. I’d have been satisfied with the addition of just one or two more; but today’s news about rejecting Andretti makes me want to completely stop supporting or watching or rooting for F1 at all.

  9. @keithcollantine the irony of this being posted today now we’ve had the Andretti announcement isn’t lost on me.

    Bring back 1989.

  10. Ecclestone and Balestre saw how a complex and expensive engine was ruining the sport, engines that were much more road-relevant than current hybrids, and yet they decided to go back to the old and simple engines with extraordinary results. F1 needs that philosophy back more than ever.

  11. For me endurance racing is getting better than F1. The entire turbo hybrid era been disaster.

  12. terimakasih infonya bermanfaat

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