Hello and welcome to Turbos and Tantrums, an attempt to tell the story of modern Formula One, which for various reasons expanded on in the introduction I have declared to begin with the 1981 season – largely because you’ve got to start somewhere.

For each season, I’ll start with a review of the teams and drivers competing in the new season, and proceed through each race chronologially, making an attempt to avoid writing with hindsight or anticipating events yet to come. No “the first of many victories to come” or “this would turn out to be his last victory in F1 even though he continued driving for several years”. Just the story of the season unfolding as it did at the time.

The aim, such as it is, is to look at the narrative of the ongoing seasons. Although we may know who won the championship in a given year, it may surprise some and come as a nice reminder to others the way in which that was achieved, the characters and “sub-plots” woven through the main championship battles and so on.

1991 Canadian Grand Prix

Gilles Villeneuve Circuit Montreal (88-93).svgCircuit Gilles Villeneuve
2 June 1991

There had been developments in the three weeks since Monaco, with Ferrari finally resolving the growing conflict between Alain Prost and Cesare Fiorio by firing the latter and instating a management triumvirate led by Piero Ferrari (son and heir of Enzo) while John Barnard had left the Benetton team to be replaced by Gordon Kimball as Technical Director and Brabham manager Dave Price had also departed. Julian Bailey’s fine drive at Imola had not been enough to attract sponsorship and he couldn’t afford to keep his Lotus drive, so team test driver Johnny Herbert would once again substitute, while Alex Caffi, having survived his Monaco crash unscathed, was then injured in a road accident and would not be appearing for Footwork. Stefan Johansson was on hand to substitute after being dropped by AGS two races earlier.

Image result for johnny herbert12. Johnny Herbert 

Johnny’s star seemed to have waned in Formula One over the last couple of years – there was a feeling he might have been rushed back into the cockpit too quickly by Benetton in 1989 after his accident, and since then had been building his confidence as official test driver for the Lotus team as well as competing in Japanese F3000 with the LeMans Team with whom he had finished third in the 1990 standings before standing in for Martin Donnelly in F1 He would be hoping that this stint would last longer.

On a slightly amended track, tweaked to alter the pit lane entrance and resurfaced in parts, Friday morning started as usual with pre-qualifying, which saw the two Dallaras and the two Jordans going through as usual (the others would be glad to see the back of them when they inevitably got out of PQ after the British Grand Prix). Then in pre-qualifying warm-up, the unthinkable happened as Senna had a big engine blow-out, while the Williams cars were easily the class of the field. And then the heavens opened just as the first qualifying session began. Mansell and Alesi topped the timings but as long as Saturday was dry, it wouldn’t matter.

It didn’t: Saturday qualifying was dry. Williams were best again, and took their first front-row lockout of the year with Patrese beating Mansell by 0.4s despite having a big off on Friday after hitting Senna’s oil. Senna was third alongside his old chum Prost, with Image result for 1991 canadian grand prixMoreno and Berger on row 3. Alesi and Piquet were 7th and 8th with Modena and Pirro rounding out the top ten. Johnny Herbert had gone well in the wet (the Lotus-Judd had shown at Imola that it liked the wet where the smooth power curve outweighed sheer grunt) but after technical problems on Saturday was bottom of the timings – Hakkinen qualified 24th, just ahead of Johansson making his first appearance for Footwork. In fact, for the first time this year, both Footworks qualified, with Alboreto in 21st; the other DNQs were the two AGS cars and Mark Blundell in the Brabham.

Image result for 1991 canadian grand prixRace day dawned clear and when the lights went green it was Mansell who got the drop on Patrese to hare off into the lead chased by Patrese with Senna third and the Ferraris of Prost and Alesi behind. Mansell quickly began pulling out a lead, while Berger disappeared on lap 5 with a fuel injection problem (already the third retirement after Alboreto (throttle) and Suzuki (fuel leak)). With Patrese also pulling away from Senna, it was beginning to look good for Williams – if their cars could keep going. With Berger already out, Prost was now also having problems, stuttering and missing gears, and moved over to let his team-mate through, with Piquet also taking the opportunity to get past and continue badgering Alesi for what was now fourth place.  Fourth became third on lap 25 when Senna had engine problems once again, pulling off to retire for the first time in 1991 with alternator failure. While commentators around the world were going crazy, Nelson Piquet shot past Alesi into third, with Prost following through, his gearbox having sorted itself out again.

Image result for 1991 canadian grand prixSo with both McLarens out we had Williams first and second, Benetton third and Ferrari fourth and fifth – neutrals everywhere rejoiced that we’d see something different in Canada at last and it looked very much like the Williams cars were a class above the rest with Mansell leading Patrese by 7s and Patrese leading Piquet by 17s.  Just two laps after Senna’s departure, Prost’s gearbox troubles came back and he retired himself. Another seven laps and Alesi was pulling off with engine failure. Not an auspicious start for the new Ferrari management team, then. Both McLarens and both Ferraris out before half distance, both Williamses still going strong.

Image result for 1991 canadian grand prixAll this left Stefano Modena now in fourth place, with a terrific scrap between Capelli and Lehto going on over 5th place. On lap 42, Patrese pitted after picking up a puncture and rejoined sixth, but on new Goodyears he was going faster than ever. Capelli’s Ilmor engine gave up the ghost two laps later to promote him to fifth, he was soon past Lehto for fourth and took third when Modena made his own tyre stop. Piquet would be a different proposition, though, with the B191 proving to be a nice little mover. Capelli’s retirement had promoted de Cesaris and Gachot to sixth and seventh, and when Lehto’s Judd V10 went phut on lap 50 both Jordans were running in the points for the first time.

Image result for 1991 canadian grand prixPatrese was having gearbox problems now, though, and lost third place to a charging Modena with just two laps to go. Mansell, meanwhile, now had a huge 50-second lead over Piquet, who showed no signs of being able to catch up, and just had to husband his car home to take his 17th F1 win and become the most successful British driver of all time. By the last lap, he was cruising, even occasionally waving to the enthusiastic crowd when, on the final hairpin with just a few hundred yards to the flag, he slowed dramatically and then, beating his steering wheel in frustration, rolled to a stop. Commentators around the world went berserk again as, scarcely able to believe his Image result for 1991 canadian grand prixluck, Nelson Piquet swept past his old rival’s stationary car to take an unexpected win in the Benetton. Stefano Modena was promoted to second – some compensation for his bitter Monaco disappointment – and Patrese held on for third place. Fourth and fifth places went to Jordan, who finally came good on the promise they’d been showing all season so far with their first points – a double points finish , no less. Mansell had the scant consolation of being classified sixth for one point thanks to having lapped everyone else. Martini, Comas, Pirro and Nakajima were the remaining finishers in what had been a punishing race.

Image result for 1991 canadian grand prix podium

So Piquet and Benetton moved up to second place in their respective championships and the oldest man in the field seemed to be enjoying his time at Benetton thoroughly. Williams, meanwhile, let it be known that Mansell had had an electrical problem, but most believed he’d simply stalled it while showboating.

Drivers’ Championship

1 Ayrton Senna 40
2 Nelson Piquet 16
3 Alain Prost 11
4= Gerhard Berger 10
4= Riccardo Patrese 10
6 Stefano Modena 9
7 Nigel Mansell 7
8 Jean Alesi 5
9 JJ Lehto 4
10= Roberto Moreno 3
10= Pierluigi Martini 3
10= Andrea de Cesaris 3
13= Satoru Nakajima 2
13= Mika Häkkinen 2
13= Bertrand Gachot 2
16= Aguri Suzuki 1
16= Julian Bailey 1
16= Emanuele Pirro 1

Constructors’ Championship

1 McLaren-Honda 50
2 Benetton-Ford 19
3 Williams-Renault 17
4 Ferrari 16
5 Tyrrell-Honda 11
5= Dallara-Judd 5
5= Jordan-Ford 5
7= Minardi-Ferrari 3
7= Lotus-Judd 3
9 Larrousse-Ford 1

1991 Monaco Grand Prix

Circuit_de_Monaco_1986Circuit de Monte-Carlo
12 May 1991

San Marino had been a cracking race for the neutrals – less so for the Ferrari, Williams and Benetton teams – but Monaco was the one everyone wanted to win. The weekend began on Thursday as usual at Monaco, and Pre-Qualifying saw JJ Lehto, fresh from his Imola heroics, top the table once again, with Pirro third, and the Jordans of de Cesaris and Gachot second and fourth respectively, with the two Lambos and single Coloni and Fondmetal cars missing out.

Thursday qualifying saw Martin Brundle disqualified for missing a weight check (he hadn’t seen the light), while Caffi failed to set a time, still wrangling with his new Footwork. Senna and Berger topped the times, and on Saturday the Brazilian went even Image result for 1991 monaco modenafaster to take pole yet again, but alongside would be not Berger, nor any other of the top contenders, but Stefano Modena, making his first front-row start, and the first one by a Tyrrell in quite some time. Riccardo Patrese started third – outqualifying Mansell once more – alongside Monaco-hating Nelson Piquet. Mansell and Berger were on row three, with Prost back in seventh, unable to get his Ferrari set up to his satisfaction. Alesi was ninth with Moreno between the two and de Cesaris put his Jordan tenth. The Dallaras qualified a respectable 12th (Pirro) and 13th (Lehto), Gachot in the second Jordan could only manage 24th. Häkkinen was last, but with Alboreto squeaking onto the grid, Julian Bailey would miss out alongside Barbazza, Brundle and Image result for 1991 monaco caffiAlex Caffi, who endured a truly terrifying accident coming into the Swimming Pool complex that left his Footwork-Porsche in pieces all over the track, but which he was miraculously able to walk away from with bumps, bruises and a light concussion.

At Monaco, overtaking is difficult, so the Ferraris had it all to do so far back, and even when Prost went fastest in the Sunday morning warm-up, it wasn’t looking good for Maranello – however, anything can happen on the narrow streets. When the lights went green and 26 cars exploded off the line, viewers watched with bated Image result for 1991 monaco prostbreath to see if everyone would get through the notorious Ste. Devote corner intact – and they did, more or less – Berger nudged the back of Piquet’s Benetton, deranging his front wing and Piquet’s rear-left wheel. Piquet retired immediately while Berger came in for a new nose (and would retire 9 laps later, hitting a wall with an oil-smeared visor). Senna, meanwhile led from Modena, with Patrese third, Mansell fourth ahead of the Ferraris of Prost and Alesi. Stefano had form at Monaco, having come third in the Brabham in 1989, and the introspective Italian looked at home in second place this year too. He was staying with Senna, hanging back just enough to stay out of his slipstream, and certainly having no trouble staying ahead of his countryman’s Williams.

Monaco really sorts the men from the boys and only 13 laps in Senna was already lapping backmarkers, and had eased out a lead of just over 2s. De Cesaris was driving Image result for 1991 monaco prostwell until a throttle cable snapped and sent him out, while Prost was now gaining on Mansell at a rate of knots because Nigel, once again, had a car problem. Not the gearbox, for a change, though, but a faulty throttle sensor that had made his engine cut out twice already (he kept going by bump-starting it on Monaco’s many hills) and by lap 30 he was past. Meanwhile at the front, Modena was still remarkably staying with Senna and now came to lap his team-mate Nakajima, who was not only fighting for 8th with Pirro and Lehto, but also lapping Martini himself. Nakajima – never a fan of Monaco – made an error and Image result for 1991 monaco pirrospun out. Unfortunately for Modena, this meant that Pirro glanced in his mirrors, saw a Tyrrell, and blocked any attempt Modena made to lap him, believing him to be Nakajima. Not only that, but Pirro was finding it hard to get past a recalcitrant Martini who seemed unwilling to move over. By the time blue flags and pit-car radios had sorted the mess out – and Pierluigi Martini had been handed F1’s first-ever 10-second stop-go penalty for blocking – Senna was long gone and Modena had Patrese tucked up under his rear wing.

Image result for 1991 monaco modena tunnelOn lap 43, the pair shot into the tunnel together and emerged in a cloud of smoke. Modena’s Honda V10 had let go in a big way and Patrese, mere feet behind at 160mph, could do little to avoid skidding on the oil and debris, bouncing off the barriers and pulling up behind the smoking Tyrrell. Patrese was philosophical, Modena too upset to speak. Prost was now up to second, but with a 40 second deficit he was unlikely to make up unless something drastic happened to Senna (like losing concentration and putting himself in a wall like he had in 1988). That was less of a problem, though, than Mansell, whose engine sensor appeared to have sorted itself out, and who was now charging again. He began closing rapidly, carving lumps out of Image result for 1991 monaco mansell prostProst’s lead and setting several fastest laps before closing up on lap 60. For three laps he tried everything to get past before finally getting a tow through the tunnel and, in a typically daring Mansell move, braking later than should have been possible into the Nouvelle Chicane and taking the place.

Mansell now in turn set off in equally futile pursuit of Senna, while Prost dropped back with a handling problem and Alesi in fourth struggled with a car not set up to his liking while Senna bore down on him to lap him. Moreno was fifth and Pirro sixth after Lehto had had to drop out with a gearbox stuck in sixth (Senna had found that hard enough going at Interlagos – impossible at Monaco). Prost came in for a tyre stop to see if it would cure his handling problems, but another chaotic Ferrari pit stop saw them drop the car on the air hose then have to jack it up again to release him, which dropped him to fifth behind Alesi and Moreno, and a fuming Prost also had to suffer the indignity of being lapped by Ayrton Senna.

And that was where it ended – Senna too far ahead to be caught however hard Mansell tried, though the Briton had the gap down to 18s by the end thanks to Senna easing off with an oil-pressure problem. Mansell finally puts some 1991 points on the board and Jean Alesi stands on the podium in Ferrari overalls for the first time. Moreno gets the three points he deserved at San Marino before his engine failed, with Prost fifth and Pirro continuing Dallara’s good run in sixth. Belgians Boutsen and Gachot were 7th and 8th respectively, then the two French Eric/ks, Bernard and Comas 9th and 10th the last runners.

Image result for 1991 monaco podium

Senna became the first man to win the first four races of a season, and had done it with some kind of car problem in every single race, no less. With McLaren apparently just as dominant as in 1988 but without a Senna-Prost rivalry to spice things up, there were rumblings that the 1991 season was going to be rather boring. Ron Dennis was unrepentant – “we’re here to win; the other guys need to work harder” – and Williams, Ferrari and Benetton were increasingly despairing of being able to make their cars even work, let alone catching up to the Woking Wonders.

Drivers’ Championship

1 Ayrton Senna 40
2 Alain Prost 11
3 Gerhard Berger 10
4= Nelson Piquet 6
4= Riccardo Patrese 6
4= Nigel Mansell 6
7 Jean Alesi 5
8 JJ Lehto 4
9= Stefano Modena 3
9= Roberto Moreno 3
9= Pierluigi Martini 3
12= Satoru Nakajima 2
12= Mika Häkkinen 2
14= Aguri Suzuki 1
14= Julian Bailey 1
14= Emanuele Pirro 1

Constructors’ Championship

1 McLaren-Honda 50
2 Ferrari 16
3 Williams-Renault 12
4 Benetton-Ford 9
5= Tyrrell-Honda 5
5= Dallara-Judd 5
7= Minardi-Ferrari 3
7= Lotus-Judd 3
9 Larrousse-Ford 1

1991 San Marino Grand Prix

Imola_1981Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola
28 April 1991

In the intervening five-week gap, teams had had a chance to reflect on the first two races and how to improve things for the future. The AGS team had been bought from Cyril de Rouvre by a pair of unknown Italian businessmen, Patrizio Cantù and Gabriele Raffanelli. Out went Stefan Johansson (who proclaimed himself “not bothered”) and in came IndyCar driver Fabrizio Barbazza, but otherwise little changed. There was similar change at the top at Leyton House, while Ligier cleared the decks of many of their engineering staff after the Image result for 1991 san marino grand prix benetton b191disappointing performance of their JS35. New cars were on display for Benetton (with an unusual high-nose design), Fondmetal, Brabham and Footwork, with other teams having new components. Williams again believed that testing had nailed their gearbox problems, McLaren had a new higher-torque version of their Honda V12 but Ferrari seemed instead to be having one of their periodic bouts of infighting.

caffi-barbazza-spa91.1225917_std18. Fabrizio Barbazza it

Born in Monza, young Fabrizio was probably destined to go racing, but chose a different route to many young Italians. Having started in Motocross, he moved to Formula Monza at 19 in 1982 and continued into Italian F3 the following year. He came sixth overall in 1984 and third with four race wins in 1985. At this point, he diverged from the usual career path by heading to the US to race in the inaugural American Racing Series, also known as “Indy Lights”, where he won the championship at his first go before entering the CART series proper in 1987. An instant hit, he was third in only his third race – the Indy 500, no less, on his way to “Rookie of the Year”. Since then though his career has stuttered, alternating between CART and Internationl F3000 without really establishing himself in either.

Image result for 1991 san marino grand prix jordanPre-Qualifying saw the two Jordan cars starting to really come good, with de Cesaris at the top of the chart and Gachot third, split by Lehto in the Dallara. Pirro, however, just missed out for the first time with Eric van de Poele just scraping into fourth spot to take his Lambo into qualifying proper for the first time.

Friday qualifying saw Senna top the times with Patrese second, and when the heavens opened on Saturday that was how things stayed, with Prost third and Mansell fourth, Berger and Modena on row 3 followed by a trio of Ferraris: Alesi in the red car then the two Minardis, enjoying the use of Agip’s “rocket fuel” qualifying brew. Nakajima in the second Tyrrell was tenth, with the two Jordans lining up behind. The new Benetton B191 suffered from gearbox problems and lined up 13th (Moreno) and 14th (Piquet). At the back, Michele Alboreto crashed the new FA12 and, still in pain, failed to qualify in the old car, while Caffi had a new car with the paint still barely dry and also failed to qualify. The other two non-qualifiers were the AGS cars, with the Lotus boys on the back row, Häkkinen 25th and Bailey 26th – meaning that Eric van de Poele would start his first race from a respectable 21st place.

The weather continued to be a factor, with the track damp and rain threatening on Sunday, leaving the teams in a dilemma about whether to start on slick tyres or wets – a dilemma resolved when a brief downpour before the race wetted the track down thoroughly. Even on wets, the drivers had to be careful until the tyres heated up, as Image result for 1991 san marino grand prix prostBerger and Prost found when they slid off at Rivazza on the formation lap. Berger managed to rejoin but Prost slid helplessly into the gravel and was out before the race had even started. As the TV cameras watched, he climbed out and ran the gauntlet of the jeers of the Tifosi, already unhappy at Ferrari’s lack of competitiveness so far this year and Prost’s perceived disloyalty at daring to criticise the car and management.

Image result for 1991 imola patreseSo the hopes of Maranello now rested on Alesi and to a lesser extent the Minardi boys. When the lights went green, though, the Italian fans had another hope, because Riccardo Patrese got the drop on Senna to go into the lead – the first time that anyone other than Senna had led a race in 1991. Behind him, Mansell had another attack of “Williams Gearbox” and finally got going in ninth place, with Stefano Modena making a cracking start to move up to third ahead of Berger and Alesi. As Patrese started to pull away, Mansell was bumped from behind at the end of the first lap by Brundle’s Brabham and spun into retirement, followed closely afterwards by Nelson Piquet who slid off unassisted on lap 2.

Image result for 1991 san marino grand prix modenaBerger passed Modena to go third and Alesi went to follow suit, but overdid it and wound up in the gravel trap – both Ferraris out on lap 3 and the disbelieving Tifosi couldn’t decide whether to stay and shout or just leave. So the 1990 winner, Patrese, led Senna on lap 4 with Berger third, then the two Tyrrells of Modena and Nakajima and the two Minardis of Martini and Morbidelli. Behind them, de Cesaris was 8th in the Jordan, Moreno 9th in the new Benetton, Lehto 10th, van de Poele an excellent 11th in his first ever GP.  The Lotus boys were flying too, with Häkkinen up to 15th by lap 6.

The track was beginning to dry in places and there were still battles for position going on Image result for 1991 imola de cesarisall over the circuit as Moreno got past de Cesaris and set about getting past Morbidelli, who had a quick spin and let him through, while Senna, having let Patrese get ahead in order not to be blinded by spray, now began to close up again. By lap 10 the track was rapidly drying and it was obvious that drivers would soon be coming in to change to slicks. At the end of that lap, Senna took the lead as Patrese slowed to enter the pits. The team changed the tyres, but his engine was also sounding dodgy and the team spent some time fiddling with it before finally releasing him last and 6 laps down. The car lasted another 9 laps before retiring with engine trouble.

All of which meant that McLaren now led 1-2 with Tyrrell 3-4, then Martini and Moreno, with de Cesaris 7th. Van de Poele was running a great 10th until he lost the place to a charging Bailey who had now made up 15 places in as many laps! However, if the watching millions were resigned to another boring McLaren demonstration, things were looking up as Gerhard Berger began to close in on Senna, pitting on lap 14 with a cracking 6.45s stop – Senna came in a couple of laps later with a slightly slower stop, and Image result for 1991 imola de baileyhis lead was now down to 5 seconds over his charging team-mate. With the Tyrrells still running an excellent 3rd and 4th, it was Martini still 5th but de Cesaris was now up in the points in the Jordan, with Capelli 7th and the two Lotus cars of Bailey and Häkkinen 8th and 11th, sandwiching Boutsen’s Ligier and van de Poele’s Lambo.

Berger set the fastest lap and continued to push Senna, but was balked by a three-way scrap going on in traffic, just as Nakajima pulled out with transmission trouble, promoting Moreno to fourth in the new B191 and briefly putting Bailey up into the points before he lost 6th to Martini. As the McLarens had their own private tactical battle, behind them the order was ever-changing as cars pitted and jostled for position. On lap 24, Senna and Berger led Modena by over a minute, followed by Moreno, Capelli, Lehto, Boutsen, Bailey, de Cesaris, Martini with van de Poele 11th and Häkkinen 12th.

Capelli soon blotted his copybook by spinning into retirement, moving everyone else up a place, while Senna had now pulled away ahead of Berger and with nothing much Image result for 1991 imola de baileyhappening up front the attention was on the cracking racing further back, particularly the scrap between Häkkinen and van de Poele, with the Lotus quicker in the corners but the Lambo having more grunt on the straights. Things settled down a little and Senna came through to lap Modena in third place – only to be blocked by the black and white Tyrrell – though the Jordan team’s excellent race so far came to an end on lap 38 as both of their cars retired with unrelated problems – de Cesaris with a gearbox problem and Gachot with suspension. A few laps later, Modena’s Tyrrell retired with the same transmission problem that had put paid to Nakajima.

Image result for 1991 imola dallaraThis promoted Moreno to third, with on lap 44 Lehto fourth, Martini fifth and van de Poele a strong sixth, and Berger was charging again, wearing down Senna’s lead with 17 laps to go. With nine laps to go, Moreno’s gearbox let him down and Lehto was up into third place in the Dallara. The Benetton kept running in fourth for a while, a lap ahead of fifth-placed Martini, with van de Poele still hanging on to sixth chased by fellow Belgian Boutsen, with the Loti of Bailey and Häkkinen behind and having a lively battle with eich other. Moreno dropped out a couple of laps later, promoting Martini to fourth, van de Poele to fifth and Bailey, having got past Boutsen, to sixth.

Image result for 1991 imola bergerBerger continued to push, setting a new lap record and starting to rapidly close as Senna had a problem with the oil pressure on his new Honda V12, and with the laps counting down it started to look like there might be a late shock. Late disappointment for Lambo as a fuel-pump issue put van de Poele out and robbed him of two points, but joy for Lotus as this meant both their cars were now in the points – with Häkkinen now ahead of Bailey. Senna took the chequered flag to win but just 1.7s ahead of Berger, who would have to wait longer for his first McLaren win. JJ Lehto took his first-ever podium place, with Martini’s Minardi-Ferrari also flying the flag for Italy in fourth, Häkkinen fifth and Bailey sixth.

Image result for 1991 imola podium

But after three races Senna had yet to be beaten with a perfect 30 points, three times as many as Berger in second place, and McLaren’s opposition looked all at sea – Williams had only finished once in six starts, Ferrari were better, but only just, and their drivers had both just gone out of the home race through silly driver errors. Rumours said that Prost and Cesare Fiorio weren’t on the best of terms before the race and this wouldn’t help.

Drivers’ Championship

1 Ayrton Senna 30
2 Gerhard Berger 10
3 Alain Prost 9
4= Nelson Piquet 6
4= Riccardo Patrese 6
6 JJ Lehto 4
7= Stefano Modena 3
7= Pierluigi Martini 3
9= Satoru Nakajima 2
9= Mika Häkkinen 2
11= Aguri Suzuki 1
11= Jean Alesi 1
11= Julian Bailey 1

Constructors’ Championship

1 McLaren-Honda 40
2 Ferrari 10
3= Benetton-Ford 6
3= Williams-Renault 6
5 Tyrrell-Honda 5
6 Dallara-Judd 4
7= Minardi-Ferrari 3
7= Lotus-Judd 3
9 Larrousse-Ford 1

1991 Brazilian Grand Prix

Circuit Interlagos.svgCircuit Jose Carlos Pace, Interlagos
24 March 1991

With two weeks between races, the teams had gone back to their European bases to make improvements. Williams test driver Damon Hill had worked hard on the troublesome semi-automatic gearbox and the team reckoned they’d nailed the problem. Senna and Berger were still working hard on the McLaren, with the champion still not quite satisfied with it, while Ferrari were doubtless also frantically testing and tweaking, despite their protestations that the Interlagos circuit would suit their car much better than Phoenix had.

Ayrton Senna had yet to win the Brazilian Grand Prix in seven attempts since 1984 – six of them in race-winning cars – and was even more motivated to do so now the race had moved to his home town of Sao Paulo. The new Interlagos circuit had gone down well last year – less well the grey, industrial city with its favelas. Last year’s financial crisis was over at least, but visiting fans and reporters still longed for the beaches of Rio. Pre-qualifying once again saw the Dallara cars looking impressive, with JJ Lehto setting the fastest time, Pirro only managing fourth with the two Jordans sandwiched between them: Andrea de Cesaris missed out in Phoenix after muffing a gear-change. Chaves and Grouillard both had car trouble stopping them from doing better, with the two Lambo drivers of van de Poele and Larini in between.

Image result for 1991 brazilian grand prixBy the time Friday afternoon’s Q1 session started, the skies had opened and it was raining – hard. Senna set the best time with Alesi second, but with a dry Saturday session all bets were off. Senna put in a stonking 1:16.392 to take pole with Riccardo Patrese alongside on the front row. Behind them were Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger, with the Ferraris disappointed to be back in 5th (Prost) and 6th (Alesi). An all-Brazil row four with Piquet lining up 7th alongside not Moreno but Mauricio Gugelmin, inspired in the Leyton House. Modena was 9th in the Tyrrell with Gachot an excellent 10th in the Jordan. With Pirro 12th and de Cesaris 14th, that made three pre-qualifiers on the grid ahead of Roberto Moreno, who would be disappointed with his day’s work. With the Brabhams of Blundell and Brundle bringing up the rear, the Footwork drivers both missed the race and would look forward to their new car at Imola, alongside Johansson and Julian Bailey, again out of luck with car trouble.

Image result for 1991 brazilian grand prixSenna once again got the perfect start, blasting away into the first corner followed by Mansell who’d got ahead of his team-mate Patrese, then Alesi, Berger – whose McLaren had caught fire briefly before apparently sorting itself out – and Piquet, with Prost losing two places at the start. Roared on by the crowd, Senna immediately started pulling ahead of Mansell, and was 2.8s ahead by lap 8. At this point, the aqua-blue car of another home hero, Mauricio Gugelmin, pulled off: his in-cockpit fire extinguisher had gone off in the Sunday morning warm-up, giving him some nasty chemical burns. He’d gamely started the race but after a few laps realised he wasn’t going to make it to the end and retired rather than risking further damage.

Image result for 1991 interlagos mansellAlthough Senna had been slowly extending his lead, Mansell wasn’t letting him go easily and was keeping the pressure on. Slowly, he now began to catch up again, halving the gap to 1.4s by lap 17 – the lap on which Alain Prost, frustrated at still being stuck behind Piquet, pitted for new tyres. He rejoined down in 11th, hoping to go the remaining 54 laps without stopping and benefit when the others had to. Mansell continued to push, meanwhile, halving the gap again to 0.7s by lap 20 before peeling in for his own tyre stop on lap 26. A stroke of tactical genius? We would never know, because he spent 14.6s in the pits, much of it trying to engage first gear, before rejoining fourth behind Patrese and Alesi. With a lead now of some 20 seconds over Patrese, Senna was able to stop without losing the lead, but Patrese emerged fourth, behind Mansell and Piquet (who was still stymieing Prost’s attempts to get past) and the Briton, now just 7 seconds behind, started to push once more. As he gradually reeled in the home hero, Patrese got back past Piquet while Prost was forced to make a second stop, as was Alesi.

Image result for 1991 interlagos sennaSenna responded and started to pull out once again, 8.5s the gap on lap 50 and Nigel peeled into the pits once again – a puncture caused by debris on the track – and rejoined still second but now 36s down. But this is Nigel Mansell: he doesn’t do settling for second place. He took a deep breath and started charging again. Unbeknownst to all, Senna had a gearbox problem and had lost fourth, and Mansell was able to start closing but with just 21 laps to go by now he clearly had his work cut out. Patrese was also running quickly, chased by Berger, with Prost fifth having finally got ahead of Piquet who was starting to regret trying to go non-stop.

Mansell continued to get the lead down, setting the fastest lap and by the end of lap 59 of 71 he’d almost halved it – only for his gearbox to suddenly select 1st instead of 4th on lap 60, pitching him into a spin and putting him out. The question now was whether Senna Image result for 1991 interlagos mansellcould make it to the end or whether Patrese could catch him. There was quite a gap but now Senna’s gearbox had lost all but 1st and 6th gears, so Senna was trying to husband it home in 6th without stalling in the slow bits while Patrese ate great lumps out of his lead at a rate of 4s per lap. With ten laps to go he was ten seconds behind – only for his gearbox to start misbehaving, missing gears as he changed down. Reluctantly, he backed off and settled for second place and Senna was able to take his first ever home Grand Prix win. As he crossed the line, he was fairly screaming in relieved delight over the pit-car radio and, racked with cramp, had to be bodily lifted from the car and driven to the podium in the course medical car. But he’d done it and, for the first time, was able to stand on the top step of the podium and wave the Brazilian flag. He and Patrese were joined by Gerhard Berger in third (who had had his own car problems with a sticking throttle), with Prost, Piquet and Alesi picking up the rest of the points. Roberto Moreno came seventh, just out of the points, with Morbidelli 8th and Mika Häkkinen making his first Grand Prix finish in 9th place.

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There was now a five-week break before the San Marino Grand Prix, with several teams including Benetton looking forward to introducing their new cars. Williams would need to work on their gearbox more and Ferrari would be particularly keen to make improvements before their home race.

Drivers’ Championship

1 Ayrton Senna 20
2 Alain Prost 9
3= Nelson Piquet 6
3= Riccardo Patrese 6
5 Gerhard Berger 4
6 Stefano Modena 3
7 Satoru Nakajima 2
8= Aguri Suzuki 1
8= Jean Alesi 1

Constructors’ Championship

1 McLaren-Honda 14
2 Ferrari 10
3= Benetton-Ford 6
3= Williams-Renault 6
5 Tyrrell-Honda 5
6 Larrousse-Ford 1

1991 United States Grand Prix

Phoenix Grand Prix Route - 1991.svgPhoenix Street Circuit
10 March 1991

Once again, the teams congregated for their first meeting of the season ready to find out what the end result of all the testing and development over the winter would be. Phoenix was warm and sunny and the USA was revelling in a burst of national pride after their victory in the Gulf War, but once again the circuit was empty of spectators with most Phoenicians seeming to regard the whole weekend as an annoyance.

In testing at Imola a week earlier, the McLaren drivers had professed themselves disappointed with the new car, with Berger additionally still finding the tub cramped. By contrast, the Williams, Benetton and Ferrari drivers looked relaxed and confident and two drivers would be driving landmark races – Gerhard Berger’s 100th and the newly-minted Nigel Mansell OBE’s 150th. Pre-qualifying saw a couple of surprises – Pedro Image result for 1991 us grand prixChaves made the early pace in the Coloni before overcooking it and hitting a tyre wall, but it was the Dallaras who proved the best with Pirro (right) and Lehto easily heading the table. Gachot and de Cesaris were third and fourth in the new Jordans – until Larini put in a stonking lap in the dying seconds to snatch third and edge the experienced Italian out. He would join Chavez, Grouillard and van de Poele in sitting out the rest of the weekend.

Image result for 1991 us grand prixDespite all McLaren’s protestations, Senna was fastest in Friday practice, and although Alesi was top on Saturday morning, the champion took pole by over a second from Alain Prost. On row two, Patrese qualified ahead of Mansell with Piquet fifth and Alesi sixth in his first race for Ferrari. Berger – still feeling cramped in the car – was back in 7th, alongside Roberto Moreno, with Pirro and Lehto qualifying an excellent 9th and 10th. Of the debutants, Mika Häkkinen was an excellent 13th, Gachot 14th in the new Jordan, Larini 17th in the Lambo and Blundell 24th. The Footwork team found their Porsche power lacking; Alboreto 25th and Caffi failing to qualify, where he would join Comas, Johansson and Julian Bailey, whose Lotus blew an engine early in the session.

Image result for 1991 us grand prixWhen the red lights changed to green on the 1991 season, Senna got the best start and went into the first corner in the lead, chased by Prost, with Mansell getting ahead of Patrese behind them, and Riccardo lost fourth to Alesi on lap one too. It was very quickly clear just how superior Senna was in the new McLaren as he started to pull away at a second a lap from Prost, But the Italian wasn’t giving up yet; he pressured Alesi for lap after lap, looking for a way past, before finally squeezing through on lap 16. By lap 20 he was up behind Mansell and harrying his team leader for third place. Two laps later he went for it, overcooked things a little and spun, with Nigel just avoiding him, and ended up sixth behind Alesi and Berger. So he got his head down and charged again, passing the struggling Austrian on lap 30, just as Mansell waved Alesi and Patrese through, pulling off with a broken semi-automatic gearbox.

Image result for 1991 us grand prixGoodyear reckoned that even on super-soft D compound tyres, the race should be non-stop but evidently the racing was lively enough to wear them out and drivers started coming in – Alesi first on lap 43, putting Patrese up to third and trying to reel in Prost. Berger had lost fuel pressure and departed the race by then, so Alesi rejoined seventh. Three laps later Prost came in – interesting because he hadn’t really been racing anyone – and the Ferrari mechanics made a right pudding of his stop, sending him out after 15.8s and he was down to seventh. So Senna now had a massive lead over Patrese, some 32 seconds, which allowed him to comfortably come in and retain the lead.

Patrese was being slowly caught by Piquet in third, and on lap 50 his semi-automatic gearbox failed too – developing a mind of its own, it selected neutral, then second coming around a right hander, pitching Patrese backwards into the wall at the most awkward possible place, right on the exit of a blind right-hander. Piquet with super-human Image result for 1991 us grand prixreflexes just missed, but an unsighted Moreno came next and smashed right into Patrese, riding over the nose-cone of the Williams. Both drivers were out and fortunate not to be hurt. Without stopping the race there was no way of moving the stranded cars, and the course organisers decided to simply leave them be, trusting that the drivers had all clocked their position and would know to avoid them in the future. They did, though both Nakajima and Gachot later spun while going round them. So it was Senna, Piquet, Alesi with Stefano Modena fourth in the Tyrrell and Prost charging in fifth.

Image result for 1991 us grand prix piquetProst took his time getting past Modena while Alesi bore down on Piquet who had chosen too hard a compound and was lacking grip – in Benetton’s first race with Pirelli rubber he as not yet fully au fait with the compounds. On lap 53 he was past, but Piquet stuck with him and wasn’t going to be left behind. So Alesi was up to second in his first race for Ferrari and if anything happened to Senna he might even repeat Mansell’s feat by winning his first race – but not if Prost had anything to say about it. Finally past the Tyrrell, he was on a charge and quickly caught the pair of them. And then, in the sort of move that separates champions from other drivers, as Piquet tried to get past Alesi, Prost nipped through and took both of them to go second.

With the laps ticking down – based on the current speeds it looked like the two-hour limit would arrive after 81 laps rather than the scheduled 82 – Alesi was in trouble and retired on lap 73 with a smoking engine, putting Stefano Modena back up to fourth and that was where they finished. A massively dominant lights-to-flag victory for Senna, who said after the race that he still wasn’t quite happy with the performance of the McLaren! A dispirited second for Prost, who had thought that his Ferrari would at least be the equal of the McLarens. A satisfied third for Piquet in last year’s car on the wrong tyres to make a trio of world champions on the podium with eight titles between them. A delighted Ken Tyrrell saw his drivers come home fourth and fifth to show the potential of the new car with its Honda V10s. And and equally delighted Gerard Larrousse as his man Suzuki took Image result for 1991 us grand prix modenathe last point to show there was life after Lamborghini. Speaking of whom, Nicola Larini brought his car (pictured) home seventh – albeit three laps down in this race of attrition. Gabriele Tarquini’s AGS and Brundle’s Brabham (struggling away eight laps down) were the only other car running at the end, though retirees Martini (engine), Gachot (engine) and Alesi had done enough to be classified at least.

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With Ferrari disappointingly adrift and Williams clearly needing to get to work on their gearbox, it looked like the rest needed to do a lot of work to catch up with the McLarens who had got it right once again.

Drivers’ Championship

1 Ayrton Senna 10
2 Alain Prost 6
3 Nelson Piquet 4
4 Stefano Modena 3
5 Satoru Nakajima 2
6 Aguri Suzuki 1


Constructors’ Championship

1 McLaren-Honda 9
2 Ferrari 6
3 Tyrrell-Honda 5
4 Benetton-Ford 4
4 Larrousse-Ford 1


Image result for modena lamborghini 1991

The origins of the Modena-Lamborghini team lie in the early months of 1990 as the GLAS team, a Mexican-backed effort which approached Lamborghini for a supply of engines and for assistance with chassis design. Lamborghini in turn were interested in expanding from engine supply into having their own team, and seconded Mauro Forghieri and Mario Tolentino to the team to design the chassis. In mid-1990 with the chassis nearly complete, the main backer, Gonzalez Luna, disappeared with his money, so in order to keep things going Lamborghini decided to invest the money themselves. However, the firm wanted to keep things at arm’s length to avoid the illustrious name being attached to a high-profile flop, so the team was registered under the name “Modena Racing Team” after the town where the factory was based (sadly, driver Stefano Modena, also from Modena, was with Tyrrell). Fans and commentators alike simply referred to them as Lamborghini or “Lambo” for short – which was after all the name of the constructor on the entry papers. Confused? Nicola Larini, an experienced test driver, was signed after his stint with Ligier, and would partner Belgian rookie Eric van de Poele.

C2x2tVWXEAASelJ34. Nicola Larini it

Larini was another driver like Gachot with evident talent but never having had the machinery to make the most of it. Coloni, Osella and then Ligier had all been pretty average at best, though in 1990 he had at least managed to qualify for every race and clearly outshone his more experinced team-mate Alliot. The Lamborghini engine had been pretty good in 1990, though, and while the new package was unlikely to win straight out of the box, it might allow him to do better.


Image result for eric van de poele 199135. Eric van de Poele be

The Belgian driver from Verviers began life in single-seat racing, moving from karts into French F3 but also kept a sideline in touring car racing, and indeed in 1987 he won the German Touring Car series despite not winning a race all season as well as the Spa 24 Hours. In 1989 he moved to British F3000, finishing fourth and then as runner-up to Erik Comas with three wins in 1990. His long-term sponsor Lease Plan decided to back him into F1 with the new Lamborghini outfit.


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Eddie Jordan had briefly been a driver himself, but in the early 1980s he formed his own team, Eddie Jordan Racing, entering in the Formula 3 series and proving immediately successful. In 1983, Jordan driver Martin Brundle and former Jordan test driver Ayrton Senna conducted a fantastic scrap throughout the season, and in 1987 Johnny Herbert won the title with them and they made the step up into F3000. Jordan and Herbert formed a great partnership until Herbert’s accident at Brands. Eddie Jordan clearly has an eye for talent, with Martin Donnelly and Jean Alesi  among his other drivers in the period. For 1991, the team makes the step up to the big time and Formula One with a neat, flowing chassis by Gary Anderson mounting a Ford DFR powerplant, some attractive green 7Up branding and driven by Bertrand Gachot and Andrea de Cesaris. Jordan also keeps his options open by continuing to run a F3000 team with Vincenzo Sospiri and Graham Hill’s son Damon at the wheel – potential future F1 recruits?

Related image32. Bertrand Gachot be

Despite being highly regarded as a promising driver, Bertrand Gachot had never really had much of a chance to prove it so far. Beginning with the Onyx team thanks to the backing of erratic businessman Jean-Pierre van Rossem, he was sacked for disagreeing with him just before the team’s best race in Portugal. A dreadful 1990 in the terrible Coloni saw him fail to qualify for any race, and his stock has fallen somewhat since. His experience with startup teams hasn’t been great but Jordan’s pedigree gives him hope for better.

Related image33. Andrea de Cesaris it

The Italian’s stint with Dallara had been mixed – he had stood on the podium in 1989, but also taken out his own team-mate. 1990 was more anonymous, with the team slipping back from midfield and de Cesaris seemed frustrated, reviving his reputation for crashing out or blocking faster drivers – nonetheless, he has matured and still comes with substantial Marlboro Italia money, so with his vast experience and backing, he was still a good signing for a new squad.