The 1991 French Grand Prix was the 77th running of the French Grand Prix, held at the Magny-Cours circuit in central France. The seventh round of the 1991 Formula One Championship saw Riccardo Patrese take a hat-trick of pole positions in 1991, and saw home favourite Alain Prost start from second, his best grid slot of the season.
It was not to be their day, however, as Nigel Mansell stole victory from them, as Prost fended off arch rival, and Championship leader, Ayrton Senna for second. Of note was the performance of Andrea de Cesaris for the new Jordan Grand Prix team, whose third points finish in a row almost guaranteed that they would not have to pre-qualify for races after the British Grand Prix.
Magny-Cours hosted its first Grand Prix in 1991, but was not met with acclaim as the organisers had hoped. With limited facilities, poor support for the teams and limited access for fans, a trait which would plague the circuit into the 2000s. The local area couldn't hold the personnel either, with teams spending as much time traveling to the circuit as they did there, a factor shared by everyone, except the local team. Indeed, Ligier had had a hand in redeveloping the circuit in the 1980s, and had operated from the circuit since 1990, so had the luxury of experience that none one else had.
Team news was centred on Footwork, who finally decided to call time on the Porsche V12 engine, signalling the last entry for Porsche machinery to date. They switched to the easily available, and relatively cheap, Ford Cosworth DFR engine, used by many of the lower teams. It was most likely a decision made too late, however, as Jordan and Dallara looked to have secured their qualification places after the British Grand Prix already, leaving Footwork to battle Brabham to stay as automatic qualifiers. The other big news was the debut of the new Ferrari, the 643.
Championship wise, Ayrton Senna held his lead at 24 points in Mexico, with Riccardo Patrese slotting into second. Patrese's team mate Nigel Mansell sat fourth behind Nelson Piquet, although it was the Brit who looked like being the closest contender to Senna in 1991, having led all three of the previous races, only to be denied by luck in two of them. Alain Prost already looked to be out of the title fight in fifth, one ahead of Senna's team mate Gerhard Berger, despite it only being the seventh race.
The Constructors Championship had seem Williams-Renault cut into McLaren-Honda's strong lead in Mexico, with the FW14 looking the stronger car. they still had to find 21 points, however, and the MP4/6 was still capable of becoming Championship winning piece of machinery, as the two pulled clear of the rest. Benetton-Ford Cosworth were in a comfortable third, as Ferrari failed to get to grips with their 1991 machinery. A lot of attention was also being paid to Jordan and Dallara, as both had proved to be more competitive than thought, and looked to confirm their escape from pre-qualification with another strong weekend.
The full entry list for the 1991 French Grand Prix is shown below:
As with other races in 1991, the French Grand Prix was to feature Pre-Qualifying, invented by the FIA as a safety measure to prevent too many cars on the track. As such, with Friday serving as the host day for the session, the eight drivers put into the pre-quali session were desperate to make it through, otherwise their weekend would be over immediately. So far in 1991, Jordan and Dallara had dominated the session, and were favourites to escape the session altogether after the British Grand Prix.
It was the Jordan/Dallara show once again in pre-qualifying, although the two Jordans would be joined by Olivier Grouillard rather than Emanuele Pirro, as Fondmetal's form continued. Andrea de Cesaris took the honour of being fastest for Jordan, ahead of JJ Lehto in the sole Dallara to get through, with Bertrand Gachot completing the quartet in fourth. Out went the two Lambo-Lamborghini entries and Pedro Chaves in his Coloni, as well as the afore mentioned Pirro.
Riccardo Patrese made it three pole positions in a row at Magny-Cours, with Alain Prost slotting into second at his home race, matching his best quali result of the season. Ayrton Senna crashed into the pitwall on his quick lap, although he completed it as he rebounded off the barrier, setting the third fastest time. Nigel Mansell laid claim to fourth, unable to match Patrese's performance, with Gerhard Berger beating Jean Alesi to fifth.
Once again, all four pre-qualifiers made it through, with de Angelis the best placed in thirteenth.although Lehto only just scraped through. Footwork, meanwhile, lost one car as Stefan Johansson failed to make it through (Michele Alboreto making it through in 25th), joined on the side lines by youngster Mika Häkkinen, who could not get to grips with his Lotus-Judd. They were joined by the struggling AGS cars of Fabrizio Barabazza and Gabriele Tarquini, who were not having the best of seasons.
Full Qualifying Result
The final result for the 1991 French Grand Prix is outlined below:
|7||20||Nelson Piquet||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:20.449||1:16.816||+2.257s|
|8||19||Roberto Moreno||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:19.711||1:16.961||+2.402s|
|9||15||Mauricio Gugelmin||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:19.728||1:17.015||+2.456s|
|13||33||Andrea de Cesaris||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:20.097||1:17.163||+2.604s|
|15||16||Ivan Capelli||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:19.555||1:17.533||+2.974s|
|19||32||Bertrand Gachot||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:20.374||1:18.150||+3.591s|
|21||14||Olivier Grouillard||Fondmetal-Ford Cosworth||1:20.640||1:18.210||+3.651s|
|22||30||Aguri Suzuki||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:22.058||1:18.224||+3.665s|
|23||29||Éric Bernard||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:21.613||1:18.540||+3.981s|
|25||9||Michele Alboreto||Footwork-Ford Cosworth||1:21.966||1:18.846||+4.287s|
|DNQ||18||Fabrizio Barbazza||AGS-Ford Cosworth||1:22.319||1:20.110||+5.551s|
|DNQ||17||Gabriele Tarquini||AGS-Ford Cosworth||1:22.737||1:20.262||+5.703s|
|DNQ||10||Stefan Johansson||Footwork-Ford Cosworth||1:24.114||1:21.000||+6.441s|
|DNPQ||35||Eric van de Poele||Lambo-Lamborghini||1:21.304|
|DNPQ||31||Pedro Chaves||Coloni-Ford Cosworth||1:22.229|
The starting grid for the 1991 French Grand Prix is outlined below:
|14||Andrea de Cesaris|
With rain scheduled to hit the circuit at any time during the race, the grid formed in dry, warm conditions, with no modifications to the starting order. Could Riccardo Patrese maintain his quali form and win for a second race in a row, or would Alain Prost take a home victory in the new Ferrari 643? Would Ayrton Senna rediscover his earlier or form, or was it to be the day of another driver? These questions were set to be answered when the lights went out at 14:00 on Sunday.
Patrese made a dreadful start, also costing Senna valuable time as Prost and Nigel Mansell swept into the lead. Senna maintained third ahead of team mate Gerhard Berger, as Jean Alesi darted wildly from one side to the other to try to move up from fifth. Patrese, meanwhile, was down to eighth, swamped by the Benettons and Gianni Morbidelli in the Minardi-Ferrari. Further down the order and Bertrand Gachot was already out of the race, having run wide into the gravel trap at turn one.
The next few laps saw Prost and Mansell streak ahead of the rest, with Prost also holding a two second gap to the Brit. Senna was a comfortable third with Berger sitting in fourth, until the Austrian pulled off with an engine issue on lap six, promoting Alesi. Nelson Piquet and Roberto Moreno, meanwhile, were having a great duel between themselves, with Morbidelli and Patrese close behind to battling Benettons. They stayed together for some time, until Moreno succumbed to the cars behind.
The next incident was to involve Piquet on lap ten, when Morbidelli tried to force a move up the inside of the Brazilian, before losing the backend of his car. Momentum carried the Minardi into the side of the Benetton, bumping Piquet wide, and opening an inviting gap for Patrese, who duly took sixth as a result. Morbidelli and Piquet continued, although it was all over for the Italian later that lap as he spun out with broken suspension.
By lap 15, Prost had begun to encounter traffic, and at the start of lap 21 came across a battle for Andrea de Cesaris and Martin Brundle. With no blue flags, the Italian was well within his right to attack the back of the Brabham, duly taking the position away from Brundle, while also holding up Prost. Prost then had to follow the pair through the narrow middle sector of the lap, all the while losing his advantage to Mansell, with the Brit right on his tail by the end of the lap. Then, coming into the hairpin, de Cesaris moved aside, allowing Prost to pass into the braking zone, although he soon found Mansell screaming up his right hand side too. Mansell managed to get his Williams stopped on the apex of the corner, snatching the lead away from Prost as the pair pulled away from the Jordan.
Th next action to be had was in the pitlane, as Prost and Mansell pitted for new tyres, the pair having been a second apart since Mansell took the lead. Ferrari won the battle of the pit crews, with Mansell also losing time by staying out a lap longer, meaning he fell back to second. Alesi remained in fourth, just unable to close on Senna, while Patrese kept pushing to regain lost ground.
Having emerged five seconds behind, Mansell was within striking distance again within six laps, after traffic cost the Frenchman valuable time. A 20 lap stalemate emerged, as Mansell opted to hang around a second from the back of the Ferrari in order to keep his Renault engine cool, while the pair came across single cars. A few intermittent drops of rain fell during that time, but did little to affect the pace of the leaders.
Then, as Mansell and Prost came across another group of cars on lap 54, the Brit managed to get right onto the tail of the Ferrari down the long run to the Adelaide hairpin. Prost opted to take the defensive line, darting to the inside of the corner, while Mansell dived on the brakes a fraction later, carrying him around the outside of the hairpin, and the Ferrari. Prost tried to use the traffic immediately ahead to his advantage as Mansell had done, but the group ahead included Patrese, who allowed Mansell to cruise past before slamming the door on Prost, buying the Brit a few valuable seconds.
The closing stages saw Prost fall five seconds behind Mansell, as the rain failed to materialise, leaving the Brit to scoop his first win of the season. Prost cruised home to second while Alesi climbed all over the back of Senna in third, although it was too little too late for the Sicilian who would have to settle for fourth. Patrese was fifth with a few problems ultimately costing him time, with de Cesaris taking his third points finish in a row for Jordan, completing an impressive start to the season for himself and the débuting team.
The final results for the 1991 French Grand Prix are shown below:
- First Grand Prix held at Magny-Cours.
- 17th career win for Nigel Mansell, breaking Sterling Moss' record for English drivers.
The lead of Ayrton Senna was extended in France to 25 points, as Nigel Mansell leapt into second place in the title fight. Riccardo Patrese remained ahead of Alain Prost in third, as the Frenchman climbed above Nelson Piquet for fourth. Jean Alesi, meanwhile, made further progress up the table, now sitting in eighth having swapped places with Andrea de Cesaris.
McLaren-Honda were now beginning to come under pressure from Williams-Renault, with their 24 point lead now cut to thirteen. Ferrari were back up to third, retaking the position from Benetton, with Tyrrell-Honda an increasingly distant fifth. Jordan, meanwhile, all but confirmed their escape from pre-qualifying, although they would still have to try to escape the session at the British Grand Prix.
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: FRENCH GP, 1991', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 1999), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr507.html, (Accessed 07/08/2015)
- '1991 French Grand Prix', wikipedia.org, (WikiMedia, 03/08/2015), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_French_Grand_Prix, (Accessed 04/08/2015)
- 'Classic F1 - French Grand Prix 1991', bbc.co.uk, (British Broadcasting Company, 20/10/2010), http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/9100033.stm, (Accessed 07/08/2015)
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