After four wins in five races in the 1991 season, Ayrton Senna was in Mexico determined to keep his comfortable lead in the standings. Ayrton had 40 points, while Nelson Piquet trailed behind him with just 16, in which was Senna’s best start to an F1 season ever.
On Friday, during the first qualifying session, Ayrton Senna was in for quite a shock, as he later recounted, after ending up on the gravel trap of the Peraltada corner, with his McLaren turned upside-down:
“It was terrifying. I was upside down trapped in the wreckage of my McLaren car. I felt panic just thinking that the gasoline spilling on my back might catch on fire. I was squeezed, unable to move and I was having trouble breathing. Enormous effort was required to remove the steering wheel and seat belts to get out from underneath the car – like getting a rabbit out of its burrow.”
Ayrton Senna tried to catch his breath as he recounted the details of the accident. He relived those moments of tension while giving a detailed account of each maneuver he made before rolling over.
“I went really fast into the corner, the car hit a roughness on the track surface and, as I was switching from sixth to fifth gear, I had only my left hand on the wheel. I lost control. I went flying, spun out and rolled over.”
Fans were worried not only with the accident in Mexico, but also because Senna had injured himself a few days earlier, in Brazil, when he hit his head after losing control of his jet-ski in Angra dos Reis. In both instances, Senna was seen by F1’s medic, Dr. Sid Watkins, who cleared Senna to race on Sunday.
On Saturday, the Brazilian secured the third place on the starting grid. His best lap during the qualifying rounds, at 1min17s264, was 0s568 slower than Wiliams’ Riccardo Patrese, who took the pole position. Nigel Mansell would be starting beside his Italian teammate, on the first row. Ayrton would have Ferrari’s Jean Alesi next to him, in fourth place. Frank William’s team was already making great strides that year – in 1992, they’d be unbeatable.
On Sunday, the race was off to a very messy start. Drivers had to take three warm-up laps. Only when they were lined up on the grid for the third time, the race’s authorities decided to give them the green flag.
Frenchman Jean Alesi had the best start. The Ferrari driver went from fourth to second place right after the first corner, while Senna held on to his position and Nigel Mansell kept the lead. Patrese didn’t fare so well and fell down to fourth place.
At the end of the third lap, the first with a green flag, Ayrton was all over Alesi. He drafted behind him on Peraltada’s exit and overtook him midway through the straight. The Frenchman tried to take the position back, but Senna cut him off with a beautiful maneuver.
On the following lap, Patrese took a page from Senna’s book to overtake the Ferrari. Gaining momentum on the straight, he overtook Alesi from the inside and secured the third place. At the end of lap five, Gerhrd Berger, Senna’s teammate who had started the race in fifth place, saw his Honda engine blow up on the main straight.
Thanks to the yellow flags waved in that section, Senna could breathe a little easier and hold Patrese back for a few more laps, which was proving almost impossible, given the Williams’ superiority.
On lap 10, Patrese finally overtook Senna and, one lap later, was already putting pressure on Mansell. He was doing better than the Britton in the early stages of the race.
The “Lion” was finally passed on lap 14. At the end of the long straight, Patrese braked a little later. Mansell burned a lot of rubber, but the Italian took the inside lane and came out on top after two corners side-by-side with his teammate.
A. de Cesaris
position in championship following the race
championship points accumulated
It was a great race and the results show that the championship is still open.