The 1991 Australian Grand Prix served as the final race of the 1991 Formula One Season, held in the city of Adelaide, Australia. Heavy rain hit the race just before it began, with a red flag thrown after 16 laps due to the conditions.
The race was not restarted and, with the result declared from the order on the fourteenth lap, Ayrton Senna claimed victory in what was the shortest ever Formula One level Grand Prix until the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix. Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger completed the podium, with only half points awarded as the race had not reached the 75% mark, in a race that saw McLaren-Honda take the Constructors' Championship.
The huge story to emerge post Japan and Ayrton Senna's triumph in the Championship surrounded his arch-rival Alain Prost and Ferrari. Prost had been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the work of the Ferrari team and the delay, and subsequent poor performance, of their 1991 creation, the 643. By this stage, Ferrari had had enough, and opted to cancel Prost's contract with immediate affect, drafting in Gianni Morbidelli to replace him in Australia. Prost, for his part, decided to take a break from racing in 1992 following the incident.
Minardi-Ferrari found their replacement for Morbidelli in the form of Roberto Moreno, who was once again earning a reputation for being a super-sub, rather than superstar. Elsewhere, Éric Bernard had broken his leg in his huge crash in Japan, leaving the Larrouse team having to find a reserve. Luckily for them, Bertrand Gachot was still trying to revive his career, which up until four months earlier had been on an upward trend, with the two coming to a mutual agreement in Australia.
With the Drivers' title already settled, the Championship focus was on the battle between McLaren-Honda and Williams-Renault. The former were favourites, holding an eleven point lead over their rivals, with just 16 available in Australia. If McLaren had one car finish ahead of the Williams, then they would win, although there were numerous other conditions in which they could. The reverse was true for Williams, who needed to score a double podium with the victory to stand any chance, and if one of the McLarens took second, then it would be the Marlboro machines that took the title.
The full entry list for the 1991 Australian Grand Prix is shown below:
As with the majority of the 1991 season, the 1991 Australian Grand Prix saw the use of pre-qualifying to satisfy the FIA's latest safety drive. The maximum limit for cars on any circuit at any time had been set at 30, meaning that 3 cars had to be removed from the weekend running. Seven drivers were therefore made to battle it out for four spots in the full qualifying session, based on their performance from the previous half season. Brabham, Coloni, Fondmetal, and Footwork were the entrants who made up the session after the 1991 German Grand Prix, with AGS out for the foreseeable future
Martin Brundle was once again fastest in pre-qualifying, amid rumours he was to join Benetton in 1992 to partner rising star Michael Schumacher. His team mate Mark Blundell also made it through, proving his poor performance in Japan was a blip, although he was outpaced by Alex Caffi. Michele Alboreto also got his Footwork through, as the Fondmetal of Gabriele Tarquini, and Naoki Hattori in the Coloni failed to get through, AGS having failed to send either of their cars once again.
With no pressure on his shoulders, Ayrton Senna duly took pole position, going three tenths faster than team mate Gerhard Berger in second. It was the ideal scenario for McLaren-Honda, as it meant they held the advantage in both the Championship and the race right from the start, although Williams-Renault remained a threat, Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese sharing row two. The two Benettons beat both Ferraris to the third row, Nelson Piquet finally beating rookie Schumacher in qualifying.
Alboreto was the best of the pre-qualifiers, claiming fifthteenth, with Blundell seventeenth and Caffi 23rd. But, there was to be no place on the grid for Brundle, who couldn't set a competitive time in either session, so tumbled out of the race. He joined Aguri Suzuki, who ruined his chances when he wrote off their stronger chassis in the first qualifying session, Eric van de Poele and the returning Bertrand Gachot in the other Lola.
Full Qualifying Results
The final result for the 1991 Australian Grand Prix is outlined below:
|5||20||Nelson Piquet||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:16.552||1:15.291||+1.250s|
|6||19||Michael Schumacher||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:15.840||1:15.508||+1.467s|
|9||4||Stefano Modena||Tyrrell-Honda||1:16.253||No Time||+2.212s|
|12||33||Andrea de Cesaris||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:17.073||1:17.050||+3.009s|
|14||15||Maurício Gugelmin||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:17.344||1:17.431||+3.303s|
|15||9||Michele Alboreto||Footwork-Ford Cosworth||1:18.214||1:17.355||+3.314s|
|16||32||Alex Zanardi||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:17.362||1:17.723||+3.321s|
|23||10||Alex Caffi||Footwork-Ford Cosworth||1:18.783||1:18.157||+4.116s|
|26||16||Karl Wendlinger||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:18.282||2:12.369||+4.241s|
|DNQ||30||Aguri Suzuki||Lola-Ford Cosworth||No Time||1:18.393||+4.352s|
|DNQ||35||Eric van de Poele||Lambo-Lamborghini||1:20.123||1:19.000||+4.959s|
|DNQ||29||Bertrand Gachot||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:20.163||1:19.274||+5.223s|
|DNPQ||14||Gabriele Tarquini||Fondmetal-Ford Cosworth||1:18.184|
|DNPQ||31||Naoki Hattori||Coloni-Ford Cosworth||1:22.852|
|______________||Andrea de Cesaris|
The morning before the race had been warm and dry, with no concerns about the weather during the warm up session, with no changes to the grid. However, as the start time approached, dark clouds gathered overhead, with a storm breaking over the circuit an hour before the start time. The start was delayed until the FIA deemed that the rain was easing, finally allowing the race to start.
Surprisingly, the FIA also deemed that the conditions were good enough to allow a standing start, with Ayrton Senna immediately showing his legendary feel in the wet to take the lead. Gerhard Berger was smartly into second, with Nigel Mansell slipping into third, Riccardo Patrese falling to the two Benettons. Surprisingly, the entire field made it through the first lap without incident, although the rain remained.
Senna immediately scampered ahead, as a mistake by Berger allowed Mansell through into second on lap three. But it was the calm before the storm, as the chaos began on lap five. Nelson Piquet and Michael Schumacher hit each other down the back straight, with the latter put into the wall. He rebounded back onto the track, getting collected by Jean Alesi and the Modena of Nicola Larini, scattering debris every where.
Piquet, meanwhile, continued, before completing a pirouette all on his own after catching a curb, but again was able to continue, and hold his fourth place. Mansell, meanwhile, was right on the tail of Senna, and as the pair came through to the back straight on lap six, the Brit was in a position to attack. Senna slowed having seen a yellow flag, but Mansell, in the spray, could not see it, only noticing a yellow flag on his side of the track a few metres ahead of Larini's abandoned machine. Both managed to weave their way through the littered machinery, before their battle resumed.
The rain was now pelting down, and the Jack Brabham Straight claimed a fourth victim in the form of Pierluigi Martini on lap ten. Senna and Mansell, meanwhile, were beginning to encounter traffic, with Alex Caffi almost catching Mansell out as they came into the new graveyard that was the Jack Brabham Straight. Mansell lost time behind him, and as he pushed to catch Senna in the next lap, he too crashed into the wall down the back straight, leaving Senna all on his own.
As Mansell crashed out, there was a bad accident in the pits, as Maurício Gugelmin slid into the pit wall, while also knocking over two marshals. With his major rivals out (Berger now also walking away from a wall related incident), Senna was waving madly at the race director every time he came down the main straight, trying to get the race stopped. More cars were now flinging themselves off the circuit, Michele Alboreto the latest victim of the conditions, with red flag suddenly shown on lap seventeen.
With only a handful of cars in race worthy condition after the final lap, with the points looking as if they would go to Senna, Piquet, Gianni Morbidelli, Andrea de Cesaris, Alex Zanardi and Stefano Modena. That said, the organisers signalled the ten minute board after a long delay, despite the rain pouring down still, although somewhat lighter than it had been. However, protests from Senna and Patrese ultimately ended any chance of a restart.
The carnage of the final two laps caused a lot of confusion for the timekeepers, who opted to back track the result to lap 14. The controvesial decision meant that Senna won from Mansell and Berger, with Piquet dropping to fourth. Riccardo Patrese, who had collected a piece of Alesi's Ferrari in his undertray, was promoted to fifth, while Morbidelli was confirmed as taking points on his debut for the tifosi. The organisers were also made to award half points, as the race had not even approached the 75% mark needed for full points.
The final results for the 1991 Australian Grand Prix are shown below:
- Shortest Grand Prix in F1 history until the record was broken in the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, in which only two laps were completed.
- Ironically, this was the race with most finishers in 1991 after the countback.
- 60th pole position for Ayrton Senna.
- 204th and last start for Nelson Piquet.
Final Championship Standings
With that, the 1991 season came to a close, with Ayrton Senna winning the title by 24 points from Nigel Mansell in second. Riccardo Patrese claimed third from Gerhard Berger, who had already confirmed his position after Alain Prost was sacked. Nelson Piquet claimed sixth ahead of Jean Alesi, with Stefano Modena, Andrea de Cesaris and Roberto Moreno completing the top ten.
The half point situation made it impossible for Williams-Renault to win the Constructors' Championship, although Senna's victory made the point moot. McLaren-Honda therefore claimed the title for the second year in a row, with Williams in second, and Ferrari a distant third, only just ahead of Benetton. The other big story surronded Jordan, who confirmed their top five place despite being denied the points they would have got before the count back. In only their debut season, the small Irish owned team had made their mark on the Championship, and they were an exciting prospect for 1992.
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: AUSTRALIAN GP, 1991', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 1999), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr516.html, (Accessed 17/08/2015)
- '1991 Australian Grand Prix', wikipedia.org, (WikiMedia, 13/08/2015), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Australian_Grand_Prix, (Accessed 15/08/2015)
- 'F1 highlights - Senna dominates aborted 1991 Australian Grand Prix', bbc.co.uk, (British Broadcasting Company, 23/03/2009), http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/7951507.stm, (Accessed 17/08/2015)
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