Considered one of the most beautiful Formula 1 cars of all time, the F1-90 (also known as the 641) was Ferrari’s entry for the 1990 FIA Formula 1 World Championship® season. An evolution of the previous year’s F1-89 (640), the 641 is officially a work of art: it is the only racing car to be part of the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s permanent collection. Driven by Nigel Mansell and newly signed reigning World Champion Alain Prost, the F1-90 came close to landing Ferrari their first Championship title for seven years and played a key role in the year’s bitter Prost/Ferrari-Senna/McLaren rivalry.
The F1-90 was originally the brainchild of Englishman John Barnard, whom Enzo Ferrari was so keen to employ from arch-rivals McLaren that the Scuderia agreed to let him set up the Ferrari Guildford Technical Office, rather than move to Maranello in 1987. However, Barnard quit Ferrari after the 1989 season, so the F1-90 was overseen by another former McLaren designer Steve Nichols as well as Argentinean Chief Designer Enrique Scalabroni. The general lines of the car remained largely unchanged apart from a few subtle modifications to the flanks. However, the engine’s cooling and “breathing” systems were improved, and it had also been attached to a new, more efficient version of revolutionary sequential semi-automatic paddleshift gearbox of the F1-89. A new shorter version of the racing engine also debuted at Imola and proved significantly more powerful. A larger fuel tank also made up for the fact that it was thirstier than the previous version. The F1-90 was powered by a 3.5 litre 680 bhp V12 engine, which was only just short of the 690 bhp offered by the McLaren-Honda V10 power units of their closest rivals. It was not quite as flexible or as good at delivering power out of slow corners as the Honda nor the Williams-Renault V10 or the Ford-Cosworth HB V8 used by Benetton. Despite its heavier engine, the 641 was among the best handling cars on the grid; Prost would later declare it the best car of the year.
Prost worked wonders with the F1-90, winning in Brazil, and taking back-to-back wins in Mexico, France, and again at Silverstone. Mansell, meanwhile, took a podium in Canada and completed the 1-2 in Mexico, before finally scoring his sole victory that season in Portugal. Prost was triumphant again a week later in Spain, after an impressive trio of podiums in Belgium, Italy and Portugal. Six wins was enough to comfortably give Ferrari second place in the Constructor’s Championship, while Prost finished seven points adrift of Ayrton Senna in the Drivers’ title; the battle came to an abrupt end at the penultimate race in Suzuka, when both the Brazilian and French driver ended up off the track just after the start. Prost’s French victory was particularly significant as it was also Ferrari’s 100th Formula 1 win.
Overall, the Ferrari F1-90 won six of the 16 races it competed in, as well as eight further podiums, earning three pole positions, five fastest laps and 110 points for the Scuderia, claiming them second place in the Constructors’ Championship.
The Ferrari F1-90 is limited to 199 pieces.
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