The 1991 Belgian Grand Prix was the eleventh race of the 1991 Formula One Season, held at the world renowned Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. The race would go down in history as the debut for a driver whom would go on to become a legend within the sport, Michael Schumacher.
Although Schumacher retired, the race was still action packed, and saw a high attrition cruely prevent Schumacher's team mate, Andrea de Cesaris from taking a first podium for Jordan. Surviving the longest was Ayrton Senna, who won from team mate Gerhard Berger and Nelson Piquet, while Mark Blundell secured the first points for Brabham in 1991.
The big story surronding the Belgian race concerned the new Jordan Grand Prix team, who lost the services of Bertrand Gachot. Gachot was jailed by the British courts for assault, beginning a two month prison sentence, with Eddie Jordan left to search for a new driver. In the week before the race, Mercedes-Benz agreed a £200,000 fee so that their promising talent Michael Schumacher could race with the team in Belgium. Schumacher himself paid £50,000 of the fee to Jordan to secure the drive, meaning he joined Andrea de Cesaris in the 191.
Elsewhere, Honda believed that their recent developments were race ready, handing over supposedly stronger engines to McLaren, although the semi-automatic gearbox was still being refined. At Team Lotus, meanwhile, Michael Bartels was bumped out of the second seat by the returning Johnny Herbert, whose Asian exploits brought a little more sponsorship to the team. Circuit wise, the Spa Francorchamps circuit had been partially resurfaced since the 1990 Belgian Grand Prix, Blanchimont in particular.
The title battle was fast becoming a duel of two, as Ayrton Senna pulled a twelve point advantage to Belgium, with Nigel Mansell in second. The Brit had a seventeen point advantage over team mate Riccardo Patrese, with Gerhard Berger and Alain Prost seemingly in a battle for fourth, Prost being 40 points behind his arch-rival with only five races to go.
McLaren-Honda had restored their lead in the Constructors' Championship in Hungary, now with Williams-Renault behind by two points. Ferrari were an increasingly distant, but secure, third ahead of Benetton, while the Jordan team completed the top five, their recent scoring run having ended in Budapest. At the bottom of the points table were Leyton House, with a single point to their name, meaning they were ahead of Brabham, who were yet to score.
The full entry list for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix is shown below:
With 34 entries at every race in 1991, the FIA had opted to adopt a policy of limiting the number of cars on any circuit at any one time to 30. This meant that a pre-qualifying session was introduced that removed four of the slowest eight cars from the previous half season. Since the half-season switch, Brabham had managed to get both of their cars through, combined with one of the Footwork and/or AGS entries. Brabham were once again expected to breeze through, but there were no guarentees.
As many predicted, Brabham were the team to watch from pre-qualifying, as Martin Brundle beat team mate Mark Blundell by one and a half seconds. They were to be joined by Olivier Grouillard and Alex Caffi, who got into qualifying for the first time since his return. Therefore out went Michele Alboreto and Pedro Chaves, as well as the two AGS entries, with Gabriele Tarquini suffering in particular. The Italian was braving the bumps through the resurfaced Blanchimont corner when his suspension failed, throwing the AGS into the barrier although thankfully Tarquini was uninjured.
Ayrton Senna put the Honda modifications to good use, taking his second consecutive pole by over a second, as Alain Prost rediscovered some of his lost form to take second. Nigel Mansell missed out on a front row start by just seven thousandths of a second, having to settle for third alongside Gerhard Berger who failed to set a competitive time on Saturday. Jean Alesi took fifth ahead of Nelson Piquet, while debutant Michael Schumacher set a stunning lap to take seventh, equalling Jordan's best grid start of the season.
The two Brabhams made the cut to get into the race, Blundell now the quicker of the two, with Grouillard also joining them on raceday. Caffi, meanwhile, failed to qualify for the race on his quali return, joined by Nicola Larini, a surprise Aguri Suzuki and Eric van de Poele. The Friday session had seen a huge crash for van de Poele too, who had a similar accident to Tarquini, although he ended up smacking the concrete wall. The Belgian racer was sent to hospital overnight, but was fit enough to drive on Saturday, although he failed to get through.
Full Qualifying Result
The final result for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix is outlined below:
|4||2||Gerhard Berger||McLaren-Honda||1:49.485||No Time||+1.674s|
|6||20||Nelson Piquet||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:53.371||1:50.540||+2.729s|
|7||32||Michael Schumacher||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:53.290||1:51.212||+3.401s|
|8||19||Roberto Moreno||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:53.664||1:51.283||+3.472s|
|11||33||Andrea de Cesaris||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:54.186||1:51.986||+4.175s|
|12||16||Ivan Capelli||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:53.603||1:52.113||+4.302s|
|15||15||Mauricio Gugelmin||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:56.027||1:52.623||+4.812s|
|17||6||Riccardo Patrese||Williams-Renault||1:52.646||No Time||+4.835s|
|20||29||Éric Bernard||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:55.679||1:53.309||+5.498s|
|23||14||Olivier Grouillard||Fondmetal-Ford Cosworth||1:55.945||1:53.628||+5.817s|
|DNQ||30||Aguri Suzuki||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:56.594||1:53.869||+6.058s|
|DNQ||10||Alex Caffi||Footwork-Ford Cosworth||1:57.556||1:57.338||+9.527s|
|DNQ||35||Eric van de Poele||Lambo-Lamborghini||No Time||1:57.746||+9.935s|
|DNPQ||9||Michele Alboreto||Footwork-Ford Cosworth||1:59.910|
|DNPQ||17||Gabriele Tarquini||AGS-Ford Cosworth||1:59.972|
|DNPQ||31||Pedro Chaves||Coloni-Ford Cosworth||2:01.921|
|DNPQ||18||Fabrizio Barbazza||AGS-Ford Cosworth||2:03.766|
The complete starting grid for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix is shown below:
|Andrea de Cesaris||12|
With no concerns about rain, a rarity for the forests of Spa, the race was expected to be a battle between rivals, as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were set to do battle from the front once again. There were also hopes to see a battling display from Riccardo Patrese, who had had a series of issues on Saturday that left him way down the order. The morning warm-up had also seen a promising display by Michael Schumacher, who claimed fourth, while the FIA refused to modify the bumps at Blanchimont despite the two accidents earlier in the weekend.
It was grid order for the top three, as Senna, Prost and Nigel Mansell sprinted away at the front. Nelson Piquet, meanwhile, shot into fourth after Jean Alesi suffered a terrible start, losing out massively, while Gerhard Berger managed to slot into fifth. Schumacher was straight into sixth in the Jordan, although his race was over by the time the field made it through Eau Rouge after a clutch failure. Riccardo Patrese also made some minor progress at the rear of the field, as the bumps around the circuit caused no initial problems.
Lap two opened with Mansell putting pressure on Prost, while Alesi began his recovery from his poor start, beginning to close the gap to Berger. Mansell was then past Prost through the second half of the lap, with the Prost retiring in a cloud of smoke as another Ferrari engine failed for the Frenchman. Mansell, meanwhile, latched onto Senna's tail, darting around in evey possible overtaking opportunity to try to force the Brazilian into a mistake.
A robust defence by Senna meant he held the lead into his pitstop on lap 15, although problems at the stop caused him to lose time. Mansell's perfect stop two laps later handed him a big lead, as Berger also lost time due to a poor stop. Things got worse for the Austrian when he left the pits, after he was thrown into a spin at the pit exit, right in front of Stefano Modena, although there was no contact and both continued unharmed. Mansell, meanwhile, fended off a challenge from Alesi, who then began to fall away having opted not to stop for fresh tyres.
At the half way mark, Mansell went out of the race after a complete electrical failure on his Williams, handing the lead to Alesi. Senna was closing in on the Sicilian at a rapid rate by this stage, until a glitch caused his car to jump into neutral. As his car rolled to a stop, Senna suddenly found a gear, and the car leapt back into contention, just ahead of a battle between Nelson Piquet, Andrea de Cesaris and Patrese, who was having an incredibly strong race from seventeenth.
Senna seemed to have a minor issue after his glitch, meaning he was unable to pull too far ahead of the group. Alesi, meanwhile, seemed on for a certain victory, until a second engine failure for Ferrari saw Senna and his trailing trio into the lead of the race. Patrese then misjudged a move when trying to take Piquet, leaving de Cesaris to fight with the Brazilian as Patrese worked to regain the time he had lost. de Cesaris then tried a dive into Les Combes, snatching second and a certain podium for Jordan on lap 31, with only a third of the race to go.
Berger was the man on a mission into the closing stages, catching and passing Piquet just moments after Patrese had pushed his way onto the podium. The Williams then started to suffer from gearbox issues, allowing Berger and Piquet to slide into third and fourth respectively, as the race began to wind down into the final three laps. It was then when a dream podium in their debut season was snatched away from Jordan, when de Cesaris' engine failed after Eau Rouge, ending their strong weekend.
Senna, meanwhile, was crusing, and as Berger pulled within two seconds of the Brazilian, duly swept home to claim his sixth win of the season ahead of his team mate. Behind Berger came Piquet, who was surprised to be on the podium, as a late charge from his team mate Roberto Moreno saw him take fourth. Patrese managed to drag his ailing Williams to fifth, ahead of a jubilant Mark Blundell who scored the first points of the season for Brabham in 1991, which were also the first of his Formula One career.
The final results for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix are shown below:
- * Martini and de Cesaris were still classified as they had completed 90% of the race distance.
So, Ayrton Senna extended his Championship lead to 22 points, with only 50 available for the rest of the season. Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese retained second and third, while Gerhard Berger gained some breathing space in fourth. Nelson Piquet now completed the top five, as another day of problems ended Alain Prost's title hopes. Mark Blundell, meanwhile was finally on the board, climbing into seventeenth place.
McLaren-Honda left Belgium just on the cusp of the 100 point barrier, their one-two leaving them on 99 points. Williams-Renault looked as if they would need a little luck to aid their title bid, with Ferrari an ever distant third, and now under potential threat from Benetton. Jordan remained in the top five despite being cruelly denied a podium, with Brabham proping up the point scorers in twelfth.
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: BELGIAN GP, 1991', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 1999), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr511.html, (Accessed 12/08/2015)
- '1991 Belgian Grand Prix', wikipedia.org, (WikiMedia, 03/08/2015), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Belgian_Grand_Prix, (Accessed 12/08/2015)
|V T E||Belgian Grand Prix|
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