Flashback: Boutsen arrives at Mexican GP in a Renault Clio

A Formula 1 driver in 1990 turning up for a shift in his Renault runabout. As Maurice Hamilton recalls, this was not a normal sight

Thierry Boutsen's Renault

Here’s Thierry Boutsen calmly parking and stepping out of his Renault in the Mexico City pitlane in readiness for a day’s work. As if! Bernie Ecclestone wouldn’t allow road cars within a mile of his precious paddock – never mind the pitlane – unless, of course, a substantial sum of money had changed hands.

Renault Mexico’s marketing budget must have been particularly healthy in 1990 as it promoted the new Clio. Their camera crew (carrying the high-value Ecclestone-approved passes) is closing in to record the moment as if this is a Formula 1 driver’s normal means of arrival at the track.

Renault would need to make the most of it because there wasn’t much to say about Williams-Renault in this race as Boutsen finished fifth. The phlegmatic Belgian probably shrugged it off. He’d been through much deeper disappointment in Mexico, particularly when driving for Benetton in 1987.

Boutsen will be remembered for some outstanding drives, notably in the wet in Canada in 1989 for his first F1 race victory, and in the dry in Hungary a year later – his third and final win – when, having run non-stop, he withstood massive pressure from Ayrton Senna’s McLaren despite the Goodyears on the Williams being truly rooted.

Boutsen loved the engineering aspect of being an F1 driver and he enjoyed working with the likes of Patrick Head at Williams, and Benetton’s Rory Byrne and Pat Symonds. In 1987, Boutsen had the Benetton handling perfectly in Mexico, so much so that he could take the daunting Peraltada banked corner flat while leading comfortably. Then an electrical short circuit on the dashboard brought the B187 to a halt. A sure-fire maiden victory had been scuppered. This was becoming familiar.

A few months earlier in Austria, Boutsen had been pushing the leading Williams duo when his Benetton became stuck in fourth gear. “I’m 100% sure I would also have won that,” said Thierry when chatting about his career years later. “We forget how big a part reliability played in those days. The drivers today don’t know how fortunate they are.”

Indeed. If Red Bull had suffered similar failures while leading this year, can you imagine Max Verstappen’s reaction? Or what might his short-fuse father have done?

Apart from giving F1 results a bit of much-needed variety, the failures could have been a blessing for the viewing public. Christian Horner might even have been less keen than usual to go on camera at the drop of a TV producer’s hat. Then, again, there is probably about as much chance of that as there is of a GP star commuting to work in a bog-standard hatchback.

Thierry Boutsen

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