When Senna arrived for the 1991 Belgian GP, he had a comfortable lead in the standings. Despite winning the first four races of the season (USA, Brazil, San Marino and Monaco), the Brazilian had been dealing with is car’s poor performance, which meant Britton Nigel Mansell had won the following three races. In Hungary, the eighth race in the year, Senna found his way back to the top of the podium, and went to Belgium as the championship leader, 12 points ahead of Mansell (61 vs. 49).
Senna had a great start to the weekend at Spa-Francorchamps by scoring his 58th pole position in F1. He posted a time of 1min49s100 in the first practice session, 1s566 quicker than Mansell. On Saturday, Ayrton did even better, with a time of 1min47s811, beating Alain Prost – who would be starting in second with his Ferrari – by 1s010. Mansell got the third place with his Williams.
Making his F1 debut in the race, Michael Schumacher was already turning heads with a seventh position in the grid with his Jordan. Despite his good performance on the qualifying heats, he never made past the first lap in the race, due to a broken clutch.
On Sunday, Senna’s win was far from easy, even though luck seemed to be on his side: Prost was forced to retire with engine problems and Mansell, despite starting well and overtaking the Frenchman on the second lap, also ended up stranded on the 22nd lap due to an electronic malfunction when he was leading the race.
Ayrton led for 14 laps, but, after a lengthy stop at the boxes, ended up being overtaken by rivals who made their pit-stops later. That meant the McLaren driver had to play catch-up. Besides Senna and Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi took turns leading the race.
On lap 27, when he was in second place, Ayrton started having gearbox problems and had to fight his car to the end, resorting to unusual combinations when changing gears. Three laps later, leader Jean Alesi saw his Ferrari’s engine crumble, and Senna was back in the lead.
Despite all the obstacles, Ayrton was able to cross the finish line after 44 laps, scoring a heroic win. The race’s top position had changed hands four times, and seven different drivers had been among the top-three. Senna won for the fifth time at Spa (1985, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991), and this triumph was his fourth in a row – a feat only ever achieved by Jim Clark.