And that 1990 season-closing Australian GP had extra significance for historians and statisticians as it marked the 500th World Championship Grand Prix since the series’ inauguration in 1950.
Pole position went, for the ninth time that year, to World Champion Ayrton Senna. The title had been decided in the Brazilian’s favour after his controversial collision with Alain Prost’s Ferrari at the start of the previous race in Japan, and his McLaren-Honda MP4-5B headed the sister car of Gerhard Berger on the starting grid for this historic event.
Piquet, who’d won that infamous Japanese GP at Suzuka, was only seventh on the grid in his Ford V8-powered Benetton, so had work to do to make it two wins in a row for the first time since he’d taken victory in Germany and Hungary during his title year for Williams in 1987.
Senna took the lead at the start of the 81-lap race and headed the field until lap 61 when gearbox trouble pitched him off. Nigel Mansell (third on the grid) upheld Ferrari honour by running second for more than 40 laps before stopping for tyres just after half-distance. That let Piquet, who would run the entire distance on one set of Goodyear tyres, up in to second and, following Senna’s retirement, the lead.
Mansell charged back onto Piquet’s tail on his fresher rubber and tried one last brave lunge into the hairpin on the last lap as the pair fought to pass Stefano Modena’s lapped Brabham. The Englishman missed the Benetton and the Brabham by a whisker and ran wide before gathering it all up to finish a shade over three seconds behind the winner. Prost’s Ferrari was a distant third, more than half a minute adrift.
It was Piquet’s 22nd and penultimate Grand Prix win. His last would come in Canada the following June and would again hinge on late-race drama for Mansell, by then back in a Williams.