The 1991 Belgian GP went down in Formula One history for several reasons. One of them was, obviously, Ayrton Senna’s win. It was the Brazilian’s fifth and final victory at Spa-Francorchamps, and his fourth in a row (’88, ’89, ‘890 and ’91), equaling Jim Clark’s feat (he won between 1962 and 1965). The Brazilian’s first triumph had taken place in 1985, with Lotus.
The weeks preceding the race were taken over by backstage drama, especially due to the arrest of Bertrand Gachot, a Belgian driver who was convicted for assaulting a London taxi driver, in December 1990.
With the Jordan driver’s absence, the team was forced to find a last-minute replacement. Despite having experienced drivers at his disposal, such as Stefan Johansson and Keke Rosberg, Eddie Jordan decided to bet on a newcomer named Michael Schumacher, who was financially backed by Mercedes. The German driver would be making his F1 debut. During the weekend, at Spa-Francorchamps, someone painted the track’s asphalt in protest. It said: “Gachot, Belgium stands with you. You’re no hooligan”.
Senna was easily the fastest driver in both qualifying sessions. The McLaren driver secured the pole position with a time of 1min47s811, while second-place starter Alain Prost had a best time of 1min48s821, more than one second slower than the Brazilian’s.
Schumacher had a good training session debut, securing the seventh place on the starting grid, while his veteran teammate, Andrea de Cesaris, would be starting in 11th. But the German had gearbox issues in the very first lap, and didn’t finish his first and only race as a Jordan driver. In the following race, he would be behind the wheel of a Benetton, at Monza.
Senna’s fifth win at Spa was one of the hardest to come by – if not the most challenging, for the Brazilian, in Belgium. Ayrton kept the lead for 14 laps, but he was overtaken by William’s Nigel Mansell – his main rival in the fight for the world title – during a pit stop. Before that, Prost had already retired due to engine problems in his Ferrari.
Senna took advantage of Mansell’s electric issues to regain a position, but he was still behind Ferrari’s Jean Alesi, who had been leading the race since the 22nd lap. Senna went after the Frenchman, but his gearbox was acting up. The Brazilian wasn’t able to properly shift gears, and he almost had to stop his McLaren.
Luckily for Senna, Alesi’s Ferrari engine suffered the same fate as Prost’s, and he lost a race that seemed all but won. Senna had a hard time bringing his McLaren to the finish line, and the second place went to his McLaren teammate, Gerhard Berger. The Austrian secured his place on the podium three laps before the end of the race, when Andrea de Cesaris’ excellent race came to an abrupt end, due to a malfunction in his Ford engine.
Benetton’s Nelson Piquet finished in third. Another Brazilian, Roberto Moreno, also scored points, by finishing in fourth place – but he couldn’t have imagined he was about to lose his place to Michael Schumacher in the very next race. Moreno had to settle for accepting Jordan’s invitation to be their driver in the following contest, in Italy.
Senna TV about Spa-Francorchamps: