Round 8, British Grand Prix – Silverstone
OUR ‘NIGE’ TRIUMPHS AT HOME AGAIN
1 Nigel Mansell Williams Renault
2 Gerhard Berger McLaren Honda
3 Alain Prost Ferrari
4 Ayrton Senna McLaren Honda
5 Nelson Piquet Benetton Ford
6 Bertrand Gachot Jordan Ford
FOR many years, the former navy airfield of Silverstone has held the British Grand Prix and before the 1991 event, major changes had been made to the circuit. It had cost millions of pounds which saw Bridge corner redeveloped as well as a tighter infield at the end of the lap. Apart from Benetton drivers, Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno, the changes got the thumbs up from everyone in the F1 paddock.
Silverstone was just seven days after Nigel Mansell’s long overdue first success of 1991 inFranceand as ever, the patriotic British crowd turned up in their droves to drive their public hero on. Elsewhere in the circus, the wheeling and dealing was beginning for the future, with TWR boss Tom Walkinshaw, acquiring a stake in the Benetton squad, reports emerging of around 35 per cent. The feisty Scot was spearheading Jaguar’s assault in the World Sportscar Championship, so it was a shame in his domain that neither driver threatened to trouble the top runners in qualifying. In a scintillating Saturday session, Mansell took pole position with a last-gasp effort to displace world championship leader, Ayrton Senna. After the session, Senna praised Mansell for his efforts, but was clearly getting equally concerned about the threat that the Williams Renault package was producing. Riccardo Patrese beat off stiff competition from the fast-improving Ferrari’s to lead the chasing bunch.
Hot, clear skies greeted race day as Silverstone becomeBritain’s busiest airport. Despite the progress in congestion through road links, the helicopter was still the most stylish way for team members and VIP’s to arrive. With over 100,000 fanatical supporters roaring him on, Mansell was bullish about his expectations but failed at his first mission, as Senna beat him off the line. Metres behind, a fast-starting Gerhard Berger nudged Patrese into a spin at Copse corner, with the Williams nearly sideswiped by Jean Alesi’s Ferrari. While Berger continued, despite a minor dent in the front suspension, Patrese retired with accident damage in the pits at the end of the first lap.
Consequently, Piquet picked his way through from seventh on the grid into third position but miles behind the dicing Senna and Mansell. The high-revved engine sounds were drowned out by the crowd roar and the Brit reclaimed the lead on the Hangar Straight from the world champion. Lacking power from his Ford engine unit, Piquet dropped back alarmingly quickly from his third place and momentarily slipped out of the points. Berger established himself in third, but only temporarily as a hard-charging Alesi stormed past his team-mate, Alain Prost and Berger into the tight Priory bend. Berger was among the early callers for tyres, complaining massively about oversteer. The new tyres kept him in the scrap and Prost was forced to take similar action after an uncharacteristic spin at Club corner, whilst attempting to keep Alesi in check. Also in trouble was Lotus rookie Mika Hakkinen, who experienced a rocky ride through the Vale gravel trap and stones, became embedded into his Lotus cockpit. The rest of his day was bound to be uncomfortable, reminding shades of his perilous state inPhoenixwhen his steering wheel came off in his hands.
While Mansell was cruising away at the head of the train, Alesi was gaining on Senna, until he was taken out by the Larrousse of Aguri Suzuki. The Japanese driver, back in 14th spot, baulked Alesi in Bridge, and then turned in on the Frenchman at Priory, eliminating both from the race. Wisely, Jean decided to keep his opinions to himself. Then, Andrea De Cesaris was left limping away from his wreck of his Jordan Ford on the exit of Bridge corner. The Italian dropped the vehicle onto the grass and had a hefty impact with the guardrail. Even by De Cesaris’s standards, this was one of his worst shunts in his career and both Satoru Nakajima’s Tyrrell and Prost were lucky not to collect him as he speared across the track.
Nigel Mansell cruised to another Silverstone victory, his third triumph at the British Grand Prix and first since that amazing run in 1987. However, Ayrton Senna was robbed of second place on the last lap and relegated to fourth, behind Berger and Prost. His McLaren had run out of fuel on the last tour. Piquet cantered around to fifth position and Bertrand Gachot scored another point for the new Jordan outfit.
On the slowing down lap, came another portrait that remains as a golden shot, with Mansell stopping by Senna’s abandoned chassis and offered the Brazilian a lift. Despite the best efforts of an official, Ayrton tapped Nigel on the helmet and was sportingly given his lift back to the pits.
Despite suffering a gearbox bug in the closing stages, 18 points was now the difference between Senna and Mansell, with Williams a mere 12 adrift of McLaren in the constructors battle. With the height of summer in full swing, the momentum was certainly now with the Mansell – Williams Renault combination. Could he continue the incredible turnaround in the second half of the season, only time would tell?
Round 14, Spanish Grand Prix – Barcelona
MAGNIFICENT MANSELL KEEPS HIS DREAM ALIVE
1 Nigel Mansell Williams Renault
2 Alain Prost Ferrari
3 Riccardo Patrese Williams Renault
4 Jean Alesi Ferrari
5 Ayrton Senna McLaren Honda
6 Michael Schumacher Benetton Ford
THE final European event of the 1991 season was the Spanish Grand Prix and it was taking place at a new venue. Gone was the outdated Jerez circuit and in came the new, modernised Circuit de Catalunya on the outskirts of beautifulBarcelona. Just seven days after being black-flagged inPortugal, Nigel Mansell arrived with a mountain to climb in his championship scrap with Ayrton Senna. The reigning world champion was 24 points ahead of the gutsy Englishman and could afford to drive conservatively if he wanted to. On the other hand, Nigel had to win all the last three events to stand any hope of achieving the impossible.
The week started badly in an annual charity football match between media journalists and F1 football nuts such as Michael Schumacher and Michele Alboreto. Mansell sprained his ankle in an awkward tackle and put his participation in doubt for the weekend. Frank Williams was less than impressed with his star driver. He still placed his car onto the front row, ahead of Senna but behind Gerhard Berger, the Austrian’s first pole position of 1991. Back in 20th was Alessandro Zanardi, the charming Italian. He was replacing the luckless Roberto Moreno in the Jordan Ford squad.
On a damp track, Berger pulled away into the lead and Senna charged past a wheel spinning Mansell to grab second place. Riccardo Patrese made another diabolical start and dropped to seventh, behind Schumacher, Jean Alesi’s Ferrari and the fast-starting Emanuele Pirro in his Dallara Judd. By the end of the first lap, Thierry Boutsen and Eric Bernard were in the gravel after a collision, whilst the unfortunate Ivan Capelli was clipped into a spin by Pirro on the second circuit, and lost his engine. Meanwhile, Schumacher muscled his way past Mansell and started hassling Senna on his Pirelli wets, which had already reached maximum tyre temperature. The track was starting to dry, and at the optimal time, Prost, who had slipped back to a miserable 13th, pitted for dry tyres to throw him right back into contention.
Mansell had leapfrogged back into third place and was looking more comfortable with his Williams compared to Senna’s McLaren. On a greasy surface, the championship protagonists did battle down the start-finish straight, wheel-to-wheel, sparks flying and inches apart from one another at some 195 mph. Mansell grabbed the inside and second place, despite Senna’s best efforts to regain the initiative straightaway. It was border line to stupidity and some pundits thought it was a risk neither needed to take, but it became a screenshot that symbolises Grand Prix racing today. On lap nine, Berger came in for service, and was stationary for a nightmare 16.6 seconds, due to the mechanics being unable to remove flapping tape from the brake ducts. One lap later, it was the turn of Williams to have a dodgy pitstop when Mansell & Senna pitted together. The nerves following the Portuguese incident were clear to see with the wheelmen and Ayrton had claimed back track position. Briefly, Senna headed the pack, but waved Berger back through as his aim was just to keep Mansell behind, not win the event.
As it came to, he might have regretted it in a light drizzle on the 14th tour. Senna overdid his speed, lost control out of the last bend and spun across the road, narrowly missed by the charging Schumacher. Released from Senna’s gearbox, Nigel and Michael quickly closed the eight second gap Berger had established and on lap 21, Mansell claimed the lead when the McLaren lost momentum out of turn three. Moments later, Schumacher overstepped the mark trying to pass Berger and spun back to seventh spot. Mansell led Berger, Prost, Senna and Alesi. Nine laps later and Alesi was penalised with a ten second penalty for excessive swerving at the start. This relegated him behind Patrese.
This pair was catching Senna who was struggling with engine performance. By now, both McLaren’s were in big trouble as Berger retired for the seventh time in 1991 with terminal engine issues whilst in pitlane. On lap 38, Senna dropped behind Patrese with apparent ease and as Alesi cruised up to the back of the Brazilian, it became clear that McLaren were even slower than Ferrari on the Barcelona track, let alone Williams. In a desperate lunge at the first corner, the French Essilian surprised Senna who had to let him go to avoid a tangle. The way was left clear for magnificent Mansell to take a crucial win in the championship battle, his 21st career victory. He was 11 seconds clear of a polished Prost, who criticised the Ferrari management for forcing him to start on wets rather than his preferred option of slicks. Patrese was home in third, ahead of Alesi, limitless Senna and Schumacher’s Benetton. Further back, Gianni Morbidelli had touched with debutant Zanardi on the last lap, spinning the pair on the exit of the second turn. Then, an out of control Gianni speared broadside into his Minardi colleague Pierluigi Martini. Morbidelli slid into the lava and beached his car, whilst Martini came home with three wheels on his wagon.
For Mansell, it kept the belief and the fight going into the final races of the campaign. Senna was still overwhelming favourite but Barcelona had shown weaknesses in the formidable McLaren Honda partnership and the Williams Renault team were determined to overturn the deficit.
Round 16, Australian Grand Prix – Adelaide
FORMULA 1 MEETS THE BOAT RACE!
1 Ayrton Senna McLaren Honda
2 Nigel Mansell Williams Renault
3 Gerhard Berger McLaren Honda
4 Nelson Piquet Benetton Ford
5 Riccardo Patrese Williams Renault
6 Gianni Morbidelli Ferrari
AS EVER, the final event of a long, gruelling season was the Australian Grand Prix, around the demanding streets of Adelaide. With both championships settled in favour of Ayrton Senna and McLaren Honda, the paddock could relax in the hope of basking sunshine. How wrong was everyone with an event that made the history books for the wrong reasons!
The big talking point in Oz had been Ferrari’s controversial sacking of three-time world champion Alain Prost. Throughout the campaign, Prost has become increasingly disillusioned with the Italian team for producing a car not up to standard. He had used the media to express his woes, but his latest outburst after the Japanese event was the final straw for the Maranello management. Fired, Prost didn’t even bother travelling toAustraliaand few could blame him. The winner was Gianni Morbidelli, who by being Ferrari’s long-serving test driver stood into one of the famous red cars with an opportunity to make it a full-time berth for 1992. The vacated Minardi drive ended up in the hands of the luckless Roberto Moreno and Belgian Bertrand Gachot made a welcome return, having served a jail sentence for assaulting aLondoncab driver in the summer. He replaced Eric Bernard at Larrousse, recovering from serious leg injuries suffered during qualifying at Suzuka.
Qualifying in the dry saw Senna claim his customary pole position, though it was his first sinceMonzain September. Gerhard Berger made it an all red & white front row with the two Williams and Benetton’s closely behind. Little did anyone know what would greet them come Sunday morning.
It had poured down all morning in Adelaide, with track conditions very similar to the 1989 event, won by Thierry Boutsen. The race started on time and the top three cars made clean getaways. In the appalling visibility, Riccardo Patrese made a slow start again and was relegated to seventh, behind Nelson Piquet, Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi.
On lap two, a confident Nigel Mansell, determined to end the season on a high note, thrust his way past Berger and immediately closed on Senna. At this stage, the rain briefly stopped, then came down again just four laps later, this time in biblical proportions. Piquet survived a 360 degree spin on the entry to the Brabham straight, remarkably hanging onto his fourth spot. He was helped by team-mate Schumacher and Alesi tangling on the straight and both slamming into the barrier. Meanwhile, on the other side, Nicola Larini’s bent Lamborghini had been dismantled against the wall after catching standing water. As the leaders threaded their way through the carnage, concern for the safety of everyone was becoming an increasingly paramount issue. This wasn’t helped any further by Pierluigi Martini’s Minardi spinning into the wall in a straight line on the tenth circuit, and nearly being collected by backmarker, Alex Caffi.
Still, the leaders pushed on, but the now the event was turning into a last-man standing contest. On Lap 14, exiting turn three, Mansell lost control of his Williams Renault on a puddle and piled his machinery hard into the wall backwards. McLaren didn’t totally escape either with Berger enduring two spins, his second one also proving to be a terminal knock-out to his chances. Like Prost in Monaco in 1984, Senna was now waving his hands furiously out of the cockpit. Even he knew it had become too dangerous to continue and sure enough, the race was stopped.
The paramedics attended to Nigel Mansell in his car, Nigel had pulled a muscle in his neck and twisted his left knee in his shunt. Although he would make a full recovery, he had to be carried into the back of an ambulance, his season over in the worst possible fashion. For 40 minutes, the officials conferred and conferred and conferred, but the rain ceased to fall and sadly, FIA race director Roland Bruyserade was forced to abandon the 1991 Australian Grand Prix, with only half points awarded. It became the shortest world championship event of all time. It was a sad moment too for Nelson Piquet, who broke down after the decision, realising this was his last event in Grand Prix racing after over 200 starts and three world titles.
For the record, Senna took his seventh win of the season, with Mansell & Berger classified second and third. Piquet, Patrese and Morbidelli rounded out the points scorers, but no-one was a winner in this event, only the large, watery drops out of the sky.