He joined Benetton for 1988 and was third in Britain and Spain – finishing ninth equal in the final standings as a consequence. Promoted to team leader in 1989, his form and lap times seemingly fluctuated as the mood took. He qualified third for the United States GP only to crash in the warm-up but Nannini ended his season in confident style. He benefited when Ayrton Senna was disqualified in the wake of his controversial Japanese accident with Alain Prost to register his only F1 victory and he then finished second in torrential Australian rain.
He then rose to the challenge of having Nelson Piquet as his new team-mate for 1990 and was “unquestionably the most improved driver of the season” according to Autocourse. Outstanding at Hockenheim, Nannini fought Senna for the lead after running non-stop and eventually finished second. He could have won in Hungary but was punted out of the race as a result of an overly-optimistic passing attempt from the Brazilian.
Helicopter accident and subsequent career
He finished third in Spain but that was to be his last GP. He crashed his new helicopter on landing at his parents’ house near Siena and his right arm was severed. It was reconnected during an 11-hour operation and he returned to race in the 1992 Italian Touring Car Championship with a specially modified Alfa Romeo.