May 23, 2024


Fantasy Formula 1 Management

1991 Season Review : Part 1

With five drivers from five different teams winning races, 14 drivers from eight different teams scoring podium finishes, and the top five teams separated by just 21 points, 1991 proved to be a competitive season, more so than 1990.

The season kicked off at the polarising Phoenix Street Circuit for the United States Grand Prix with Gojira AutoSport’s Ayrton Senna taking the first of what would be seven pole positions, a 70% rate for the 10-race season. He was joined on the front row by 1988 champion Nigel Mansell, while reigning champion Alain Prost, now driving for Pedersen, qualified 5th.

At the start, it was FJR’s Nelson Piquet who made the best start from 3rd on the grid to take the lead before the first corner, with German debutant Michael Schumacher making a similarly rapid getaway to move into 2nd ahead of Senna. It might’ve been a bad start for the two-time champion, but that was nothing compared to JJ Lehto, who turned in too soon for the first corner, lost a wheel, and retired on the spot creating an enormous traffic jam. Furthermore, a poor start for Mansell meant that he was tagged from behind by Thierry Boutsen. The Belgian then ran over Mansell’s right front tyre and barrel-rolled. Upon rejoining, Boutsen then shunted into the unlucky Pierluigi Martini.

Piquet led the early stages, but Schumacher was the quicker driver and made a move for the lead on lap 5 going into North 5th Avenue. Despite contact, both drivers survived with Schumacher having taken the lead. Behind the Tornado driver, unreliability was starting to unravel with Senna retiring early with transmission issues and Piquet suffering a loose wheel causing terminal damage to the hub. Piquet’s issue distracted Prost to the point where he crashed out going exiting the fast left onto East Washington Street.

None of this troubled Schumacher, who built up such a lead over the field that he had time to make two stops and still win by more than a minute over Mansell, who had put in a decent recovery after being mauled on the first lap. Gerhard Berger took 3rd for Mitchell after a fairly quiet race, while Darkfire’s Johnny Herbert shunted his way into 4th after taking out both Team Atlantic cars. Completing the top six were Riccardo Patrese and Boutsen, who had also put in a strong recovery after creating some of the first lap mayhem, although this was aided by a heartbreaking retirement for the debuting Aguri Suzuki after his engine failed from 4th with just a few laps to go.

The San Marino Grand Prix saw a mixed up qualifying order thanks to rain, and a surprise pole position for JGR Meister’s Mika Hakkinen, who was competing in his first FF1M season. The main losers were Schumacher and Prost, who had qualified down in 15th and 17th having set their best times when the track was at its wettest.

The rain stayed around for the start of the race, which saw Hakkinen maintain the lead from Piquet and Senna, although the Gojira driver moved into 2nd fairly quickly and began chasing after the race lead, which was gifted to him on lap 5 after Hakkinen suffered a loose wheel. Ivan Capelli’s crash at Acque Minerali three laps later was less sympathetic, while Stefano Modena was frightened into the concrete wall at the daunting Tamburello by Mauricio Gugelmin.

With a dry line emerging, the field pitted for slicks from lap 12 onwards. Running off line caused a lurid spin for Suzuki at Tamburello, but unlike Modena, the Mitchell driver survived. Prost also had a spin at the same point, although this one was caused by turbulence from his teammate’s car. For Michele Alboreto, his issue was other drivers getting in his way, specifically Roberto Moreno going into Rivazza. Alboreto’s teammate Schumacher had worked his way up the order and was running 5th before a puncture ended his race early.

Senna’s main issue during the race was traffic as he was nearly shoved off the road by Derek Warwick, and then he had to swerve to avoid a crashed Herbert, but despite late rain creating a headache, Senna cruised to victory. Piquet should’ve been an equally comfortable 2nd but he was one of several Ferrari runners to suffer an engine failure in the closing stages (the others being Martini, Jean Alesi, and Gugelmin). Inheriting 2nd despite a late pitstop was Mansell with Patrese 3rd having gained three places in the final six laps.

Having lost two podiums places in the first two races, Piquet took pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix despite the tight street circuit not being one of his favourites, while Imola winner Senna joined him on the front row. Championship leader Mansell was down in 9th, while Phoenix winner Schumacher was 5th.

The race turned out to be a battle between the two Brazilians as Piquet and Senna quickly pulled away from the field. Lehto jumped Prost for 3rd at the start, and it took the Pedersen driver nearly 20 laps to get back ahead in what was a demon move under braking for the Nouvelle Chicane. His race then abruptly ended thanks to a transmission failure to become the 2nd retirement of the race, the first being Schumacher. Championship leader Mansell also retired thanks to a blown engine.

A two-stop strategy was the order of the day for all drivers… except for Senna, who defied the advice of the Goodyear engineers and stopped just the once. Gaining track position from Piquet proved vital as he took his 2nd win of the season with his Brazilian rival coming home 2nd for his first podium of the season, and in the process, setting the fastest lap on the final lap. His teammate should’ve been 3rd, but he suffered a transmission failure with just a few laps remaining. Once again, it was Patrese who benefitted as he took another 3rd, while rounding the points finishers were Gugelmin, Capelli, and Hakkinen.

Fresh from his 2nd consecutive win, Senna took his 2nd pole position of the season for the Mexican Grand Prix with Piquet alongside him on the front row. Schumacher and Prost were on the 2nd row, but both were less than a tenth behind Senna. With Mansell 5th, a highly competitive race was expected.

Senna kept the lead at the start while Piquet was jumped by Schumacher going into turn 4, but the start of the race came from Martini who went from 8th to 4th going into the first corner, although Prost and Mansell quickly overtook the Italian over the next couple of laps. Meanwhile, Martini’s teammate got himself into bother as he spun round after a botched overtake on Boutsen. More ignominious was Herbert going straight on at the esses and crashing into retirement on the 2nd lap. Two laps later, Darkfire’s day was finished after Modena got caught up with a recovering Alboreto.

Senna and Schumacher pulled away from Piquet, who wasn’t particularly quick in the race, indicating a less than ideal race set-up. Prost overtook the Brazilian for 3rd on lap 6, while Hakkinen’s back end overtook his front end and the Flying Finn smashed into the barriers. Schumacher then took the lead of the race on lap 9, while Mansell battled with Piquet for 4th, only to go off track and spin. He rejoined thanks to a little help from Gugelmin.

Schumacher, Senna, and Prost kept each other company in the battle for the lead, and it was the Brazilian who blinked first and headed into the pits for new tyres on lap 29. This would give him track position when Schumacher and Prost made their stops three laps later. Meanwhile, Mark Blundell made a blunder when he entered the pit lane entrance at the wrong angle having been obscured by Alesi and crashed out.

On newer tyres, Schumacher retook the lead from Senna on lap 37 after the Brazilian encountered traffic, but the Tornado driver’s lead would only last a lap as his engine failed. Senna then had problems of his own as electrical gremlins forced him into the pits and down to 3rd. He quickly regained 2nd from Mansell but was 25 seconds behind the new leader Prost. However, this suddenly became seven seconds after Prost made an unforced error and spun at the esses. Senna then slowly closed the rest of the gap until he was within striking distance of the Pedersen, but unreliability intervened with three laps to go as Prost’s engine failed.

This left Senna to take his third win in a row and strengthen his championship lead. Finishing a brilliant 2nd was Lehto, who used a two stop strategy to make his way up the order, setting the fastest lap in the process, although this was aided by Mansell and Gugelmin crashing out in the closing stages. Despite his set-up woes, Piquet made it a double FJR podium. Another noteworthy feature of the race was the first points for Team Atlantic courtesy of a fine 4th for Warwick. With Moreno 6th for Willows Racing, all teams had scored points.

A change of venue was the pre-race story of the French Grand Prix as Magny-Cours took over from Paul Ricard. Home heroes Prost and Alesi set themselves up for a decent race by qualifying 2nd and 5th. Once again, it was Senna on pole, while a standout performance came from Lehto, who qualified 3rd, three places ahead of his teammate.

The French crowd went wild at the start when Prost took the lead off the line. Discontent with this, Senna fought back going into the Adelaide hairpin, but carried too much speed and made contact with Prost, sending him into the gravel trap. The Pedersen driver dropped down to last, while Senna slipped to 4th behind Schumacher, Lehto, and Alesi. The 2nd lap saw Senna make more contact, this time with Alesi going into the Imola chicane, but managed to save 4th place. That same chicane saw carnage with Mansell going off in avoidance of Alesi, followed by contact between Alboreto and Hakkinen. Berger then went off road and spun into the stationary Mansell, losing a wheel in the process, while Martin Brundle piled into the back of Alboreto and needed a new front wing.

Lap 6 saw Senna have his 3rd collision of the race and his 2nd with Alesi. This time, he managed to ruin Alesi’s race properly as he nudged the Team Atlantic driver into the gravel at Adelaide. Three laps later, collision number four, as Senna mirrored his dubious tactic on Lehto, trashing the Finn’s strong drive. With Piquet having already blown an engine, it was a bad day for FJR, but there was some consolation for the team as Senna’s teammate crashed out after unsafely rejoining in front of the on-fire Piquet.

The high number of collisions and scrappy driving all round meant that Prost was already back in the points after just 10 laps. 6th became 4th when Warwick and Capelli collided at Adelaide, then 4th became 3rd when Senna had yet another collision, this time with 2nd-placed Patrese, and had a wild spin at Imola. Patrese survived, but he was less fortunate with his teammate, who tipped Riccardo into a spin at Adelaide. Nevertheless, Prost had gone from last to 2nd in less than a third of the race.

The wild race quietened down somewhat aside from a frightening incident on lap 39. Patrese had suffered a suspension failure and pulled off on the back straight, but a marshal had pushed his car into the path of Herbert, who inevitably careened into the Pedersen. The debris also knocked Senna’s front wing off… for once, an incident that wasn’t his fault!

By comparison, Schumacher’s race at the front was rather quiet as he had built up a 20 second lead over 2nd-placed Prost and looked to be heading for an easy win, but his gearbox cruelly failed with 20 laps to go. This handed the lead to Prost, which was remarkable considering he was last during the first lap. The reigning champion went on to win with Hakkinen taking 2nd, his first career podium finish. In what was a highly scruffy drive, Senna took 3rd in the closing stages after pressuring Suzuki into a mistake with three laps to go, although the Japanese still finished a commendable 4th.

The result left Senna with 34 points at the halfway point of the championship, nearly three times as many as his nearest rival who thanks to his home triumph, was Prost. The constructors championship wasn’t quite as dominant, but still comfortable for Gojira as they held a 15 point lead over 2nd-placed Pedersen.