1991 United States Grand Prix
|Race 1 of 16 in the 1991 Formula One season|
|Date||March 10, 1991|
|Official name||XXVIII Iceberg United States Grand Prix|
|Location||Phoenix street circuit
|Course||Temporary Road Course
3.721 km (2.312 mi)
|Distance||81 laps, 301.401 km (187.282 mi)|
25 °C (77 °F)
|Time||1:26.758 on lap 49|
||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (October 2010)|
Ayrton Senna's new McLaren-Honda had not turned a wheel prior to arriving in Phoenix for the start of the 1991 Formula One season, but when it did, no one could even stay close. On pole by more than a second over rival Alain Prost, Senna stamped his authority on the race from the green light, leaping into an immediate lead and leading every lap.
The 1991 McLaren chassis had only had one brief test session, and the two race cars were completed about 4 am Friday, six hours before the first practice session. Not many believed it could be ready to win, but Senna predicted that the new V-12 Honda would eventually be better than the previous year's V-10.
Working to prepare the new car, Senna claimed he had never gotten totally comfortable with the increasing complexity of the sport since helping Lotus introduce the first active suspension car in 1987, and he still found it hard to embrace the huge role of computers in achieving a proper setup. "Friday, to understand and interpret things properly, I worked with the engineers into the evening," Senna said. "It has been a long time since I did that. The engineers and I talked our way around the circuit, then we compared this with what the computer predicted. It was great because the computer confirmed almost everything, and it also showed where there was room for improvement."
The Ferraris of Alain Prost and Jean Alesi were expected to be the strongest team, but their V-12s and 7-speed semiautomatic gearboxes were not well suited to the tight turns and short straights of the street circuit. As it turned out, they were not the only ones plagued by gearbox problems throughout the race, but they fared better than most.
In the two previous years, the championship had been decided when Senna and Prost tangled at Suzuka. In 1989, their collision as teammates secured Prost's third World Championship; in 1990, with Prost driving for Ferrari and still in title contention, it handed Senna his second crown. Controversy regarding the nature of the 1990 incident had created great anticipation for the rematch.
On Sunday, Prost began his second season at Ferrari alongside Senna on the front row. At the start, he fell in behind the Brazilian, with Nigel Mansell slipping ahead of Riccardo Patrese. Alesi and Gerhard Berger followed, then Nelson Piquet, Roberto Moreno, Stefano Modena and Emanuele Pirro. A lap later, Alesi, in his first race for Ferrari, swept past Patrese, but by then Senna was pulling away. After ten laps, he had a lead of ten seconds over Prost.
Behind Senna, the most ambitious driver on the track in the early laps was Patrese, as he found himself on the tail of two separate but sensational three-way battles. First, after getting back by Alesi for fourth on lap 16, Patrese closed on Mansell who was immediately behind Prost. By lap 22, Patrese was close enough to attack his Williams teammate but overshot onto the escape road, as Mansell swerved to avoid him. Upon rejoining, Patrese quickly latched onto Alesi and Berger, as the new three-car train now covered fourth through sixth places. Patrese had gotten past Berger when, suddenly, two of the top six runners retired on consecutive laps. On lap 35, Mansell pulled over when the Williams' new semi-automatic gearbox failed, and on the next time around, Berger's race ended as well.
When Patrese passed Alesi for the second time, Alesi realized the Ferrari had eaten up his D-compound Goodyear tires, and he was forced to pit on lap 43. He rejoined in seventh. Three laps later, Prost was being hounded by Patrese, and he also pitted, ceding second spot to the Williams. When the Ferrari crew had problems changing his right rear tire, the Frenchman dropped to seventh behind Modena's Tyrrell-Honda.
The most frightening moment of the race came on lap 50, two laps after Senna had pitted without giving up the lead. Like Mansell, Patrese was having problems with the gearbox in his Williams, and when it selected neutral midway through Turn Seven, it caused him to spin out of second place. The car stopped on the outside of the track, perpendicular to the racing line. Piquet and Mika Häkkinen (making his F1 debut) barely managed to avoid him as they passed, but before Patrese could get out of the car, Moreno, in the second Benetton, went straight across the bow of the Williams, removing the nose of Patrese's car and the right front wheel of the Benetton. Neither driver was injured, and Patrese leaped from his cockpit and high-stepped his way off the course. Inexplicably, Patrese and Moreno's cars remained on the course throughout the race, and the impressive Bertrand Gachot, driving the first race for the new Jordan team and challenging Satoru Nakajima, spun later after swerving to avoid them; apparently, he figured they would have been taken care of by then!
With Patrese out, Senna led Piquet, who was having to hold off Alesi, by over a minute. Alesi squeezed up to second on lap 53, while four laps later Prost disposed of Modena. Then on lap 70, with one brilliant move into Turn Five, Prost went from fourth to second. With Alesi and Piquet running second and third, Piquet's Benetton pulled alongside Alesi– who had set the race's fastest lap while Prost was in the pits– in Turn Four, but could not get by. Down the straight, however, Piquet passed Alesi for second place. Prost also went by his new teammate on the left, and then sliced back to the right, between Alesi and Piquet, beating Piquet to the apex of Turn Five and regaining second place. By now Senna led by 40 seconds, pacing himself, and Prost simply consolidated second.
Gearbox troubles dropped Alesi to fifth before he retired less than 10 laps from the finish, leaving third place to Piquet who, like the two Tyrrells following, had never pitted for tires. Martini was pressing Nakajima for fifth, only to have his engine let go after 75 laps. A similar problem removed Gachot from eighth on the same lap, promoting Suzuki to sixth. The race ended a lap short of the planned 82 as the two-hour limit was reached.
After the race, Senna assessed his new car's performance: "I had small problems with the gearbox, and the car balance was not optimum, so it was very difficult to drive. I'm looking forward to running a proper circuit with proper conditions and see what the car can do." Prost and the rest of the field could only imagine how they were going to catch him when that happened. Indeed, they rarely did and Senna would go on to capture his second consecutive, third and final Driver's Championship.
|5||33||Andrea de Cesaris||Jordan-Ford||1:30.937||+2.649|
|8||35||Eric van de Poele||Lambo-Lamborghini||1:37.046||+8.758|
|18||16||Ivan Capelli||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:54.845||1.26.121||+4.687|
|23||15||Maurício Gugelmin||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:26.865||1.26.875||+5.431|
- First race: Mika Häkkinen, Mark Blundell, Eric van de Poele, Pedro Chaves, Érik Comas
- Last points: Satoru Nakajima
- The Jordan and Modena teams made their first appearances here.
- Nicola Larini's 7th place finish was the best results for the Modena team.
- Ayrton Senna was the first driver to receive 10 points for a victory under the new scoring scheme, and the win was his 27th, tying Jackie Stewart for second all-time, behind former teammate Prost. The other points scorers were also assured of keeping their points, since they would no longer be limited to their best 11 finishes on the season.
- The race was attended by approximately 18,500 spectators. It is believed that more people attended an ostrich race held in the area on the same day.
- Unknown at the time, of course, Senna's dominance for a fifth United States Grand Prix win would mark the end of 33 consecutive years of Formula One in the United States. At the 2000 United States Grand Prix, F1 would return on a new course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
- The race was Nigel Mansell's first in his familiar "Red 5" Williams since returning to the team after two years with Ferrari. He retired due to a gearbox problem.
- This was the last time that three previous world champions stood on a podium together until the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix.
Standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
- Dennis Simanaitis (June, 1991). "3rd United States Grand Prix at Phoenix: More Power To Ya". Road & Track, 133–136.
- "Formula One Phoenix Grand Prix" Video (1992), BMG Video, New York.
- "History | Weather Underground". Wunderground.com. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 1991 United States Grand Prix.|
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2000 United States Grand Prix