As it happens,
Phoenix snared the race at a time when Formula One competition is in serious
decline. It has become a game of finance and technology, and the McLaren- Honda
team has emerged as vastly superior by virtue of the tidal wave of yen supplied
by Honda for engine development. McLaren- Honda includes an army of Japanese
technicians and engineers, most of whom seldom emerge from the electronics
trailers that, through sophisticated telemetry, monitor scores of engine
functions every minute the McLarens are on the track.
So it was hardly
surprising that Senna took the pole position, the 34th pole in the 29-year-old
driver's career, breaking the late Jimmy Clark's record of 33. Senna led
through the first 33 laps of the 177-mile race, until his car faltered and
eventually retired with ignition problems. That allowed his teammate, two-time
world champion Alain Prost of France, to win by 39.696 seconds. It was Prost's
36th Grand Prix win, nine more than recorded by Jackie Stewart, who is second
on the alltime list.
But a sentimental
victory of sorts went to Eddie Cheever, the man who may turn out to be the
savior of the Phoenix race. The only American among the world's three dozen F/1
drivers, the tall, handsome and articulate 31-year-old lives with his wife,
Rita, and new daughter in Rome and Monte Carlo. But he was born in Phoenix. It
was Cheever's 123rd Grand Prix in 11 trying years on the circuit, and his
third-place finish in an Arrows-Ford on Sunday was only the second time he had
finished that high since 1983.
But was the event
a success as far as Phoenix was concerned? Was it worth the millions in city
funds to impress corporate big shots and TV-watchers in distant lands, even
though only 31,000 fans, a lot fewer than expected, paid to watch? Well, maybe
hometown boy Cheever had something to do with it, but the folks who did show up
seemed to enjoy the day thoroughly. And, hey, Bernie Ecclestone, isn't that
what this sport is all about? Bernie?