The 1991 United States Grand Prix was the first round of the 1991 Formula One Season, held in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America. Unknown at the time, the 1991 edition of the United States Grand Prix, the 33rd year of a race being held in America, would also be the last until the 2000 United States Grand Prix.
World Champion Ayrton Senna, débuting the new McLaren MP4/6 which had only been built a few weeks prior to the race, won the Grand Prix convincingly from rival Alain Prost. The wily Nelson Piquet came third for Benetton, as two new constructors joined the field: Jordan Grand Prix and Modena.
It had been a turbulent winter for Formula One after the 1990 Championship had come to an end, as various comments were throw between the major combants of the previous season, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. But, as the new season approached, these were blown aside to expectation and anticipation for the sixteen race calendar grew. In the weeks building up to the US Grand Prix, the final driver line-ups and team structures were revealed, as a new generation of engineers and drivers joined the fray.
Leading the new wave was Eddie Jordan, who decided to bring his successful British Formula Three team to the pinacle of motorsport. Jordan Grand Prix would evolve into one of the most recognisable F1 teams of its day over the following seasons, but in 1991 they were just one of two new teams. Having hired Gary Anderson to design the Jordan 191, and hiring Bertrand Gachot and the expensive and experienced Italian Andrea de Cesaris, the new Jordan team looked up for a fight.
The same could not be said for their fellow debutants, Modena Team. An Italian based team, Modena were thrown together in the months prior to the season, after a Mexican businessman pulled his funding for the proposed GLAS team over the winter. Modena's owner Carlo Patrucco made a deal with Lamborghini for engines, had Mauro Forghieri design the chassis, and hired Nicola Larini and Eric van de Poele in a few short weeks, bringing the total number of entrants to 34. The competitiveness of Modena, however, was a large unknown.
There were new faces among the drivers, as Team Lotus handed a debut to a promising young talent from Finland. Mika Häkkinen, aged 23 on his debut, was partnered with Julian Bailey in a brand-new line up for the legendary British team, powered by Judd engines. Mark Blundell was another man to make his F1 bow in the US, joining fellow Brit Martin Brundle at Brabham for the year, as they tested out Yamaha V12 engines for the season.
Tyrrell, meanwhile, had had a big pre-season, securing a deal with Honda for their V10 engines (not the shiny V10s being bolted into the McLarens mind), while also signing a huge sponsorship deal with Braun. Stefano Modena joined them from Brabham, while Satoru Nakajima competed for them once again, although their recent change in fortunes palled in comparison to Arrows. Now named Footwork Arrows, the British team had secured Porsche built V12 engines, and a strong driver line up of Michele Alboreto and Alex Caffi, although they would be forced to use an adapted version of the Arrows A11 chassis for the time being.
Osella were renamed over the winter to Fondmetal, with no real changes to the team or structure, while March were partially revived as Leyton House for the 1991 season, although the majority of the original staff had left. AGS were in financial problems but continued on into the new season, while Scuderia Italia and Minardi looked set to enjoy new engine partnerships with Judd and Ferrari repsectively.
But, at the front, there was little change, although Ferrari did draft Jean Alesi into the team to replace Nigel Mansell (who rejected retirement late in the day to rejoin Williams). Ferrari would have to wait for their new car until mid-season after several issues, although their adapted 642 remained competitive. McLaren, meanwhile, retained their dynamic duo of Senna and Gerhard Berger, and were set to go for glory again in 1991, armed with a new Honda V12.
The full entry list for the 1991 United States Grand Prix is outlined below:
Qualifying for the 1991 United States Grand Prix was split into two, due to the large number of entries for the new season. Eight cars were made to "Pre-Qualify" for the full qualification session, as the FIA determined that 30 cars was the upper limit that any circuit could handle safely. The field was split on the basis of performance over the previous half-season of results, with the the top 26 cars automatically qualifying for the qualification session. Four further places were then made to the eight Pre-Qualifiers, with the top four going into the full session.
This new system saw Andrea de Cesaris, Pedro Chaves, Olivier Grouillard and Eric van de Poele all fail to get into qualifying, as Jordan, Modena, BMS Scuderia Italia, and the two single entry teams of Coloni and Fondmetal were all made to pre-qualify. Emanuele Pirro and team mate JJ Lehto topped the times in their Dallara-Judd machines, joined by Nicola Larini (Lambo-Lamborghini) and Bertrand Gachot. Those four went on to tackle the full session.
The full pre-qualifying results for the 1991 United States Grand Prix is outlined below:
|1||21||Emanuele Pirro||Dallara-Judd||1:28.288||—||151.726 km/h|
|2||22||JJ Lehto||Dallara-Judd||1:28.792||+0.504s||150.865 km/h|
|3||34||Nicola Larini||Lambo-Lamborghini||1:30.244||+1.956s||148.438 km/h|
|4||32||Bertrand Gachot||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:30.304||+2.016s||148.339 km/h|
|DNPQ||33||Andrea de Cesaris||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:30.937||+2.649s||147.306 km/h|
|DNPQ||31||Pedro Chaves||Coloni-Ford Cosworth||1:31.113||+2.825s||147.022 km/h|
|DNPQ||14||Olivier Grouillard||Fondmetal-Ford Cosworth||1:32.126||+3.838s||145.405 km/h|
|DNPQ||35||Eric van de Poele||Lambo-Lamborghini||1:37.046||+8.758s||138.034 km/h|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a driver using their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
The full qualifying session was held over two sessions, with the driver's best time from the two determining their grid position. There were no surprises at the front, however, as Ayrton Senna broke the lap record to take pole, over a second ahead of rival Alain Prost, who would start second for Ferrari. Williams-Renault took the second row, with Riccardo Patrese ahead of Nigel Mansell, while veteran Nelson Piquet scored fifth place for Benetton.
Incredibly, all four pre-qualifiers made it through to the race, with Pirro and Lehto also breaking into the top ten for BMS Scuderia Italia. Irishman Eddie Jordan saw his new Formula One team take fourteenth through Gachout, while Larini managed seventeenth for Modena. Out went Alex Caffi, Stefan Johansson, Érik Comas and Julian Bailey, all of whom would have got through the pre-qualifying session based on their times.
The full qualifying results for the 1991 United States Grand Prix is outlined below:
|5||20||Nelson Piquet||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:25.026||1:23.384||+1.950s|
|8||19||Roberto Moreno||Benetton-Ford Cosworth||1:25.170||1:23.881||+2.447s|
|14||32||Bertrand Gachot||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:27.568||1:25.701||+4.267s|
|18||16||Ivan Capelli||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:54.845||1:26.121||+4.687s|
|19||29||Éric Bernard||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:27.446||1:26.425||+4.991s|
|21||30||Aguri Suzuki||Lola-Ford Cosworth||1:26.987||1:26.548||+5.114s|
|22||17||Gabriele Tarquini||AGS-Ford Cosworth||1:27.164||1:26.851||+5.417s|
|23||15||Maurício Gugelmin||Leyton House-Ilmor||1:26.865||1:26.875||+5.431s|
|DNQ||18||Stefan Johansson||AGS-Ford Cosworth||1:29.857||1:27.753||+6.319s|
|DNPQ||33||Andrea de Cesaris||Jordan-Ford Cosworth||1:30.937|
|DNPQ||31||Pedro Chaves||Coloni-Ford Cosworth||1:31.113|
|DNPQ||14||Olivier Grouillard||Fondmetal-Ford Cosworth||1:32.126|
|DNPQ||35||Eric van de Poele||Lambo-Lamborghini||1:37.046|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a driver using their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
Below is the starting grid for the 1991 United States Grand Prix:
With the race and the season set to start in warm and dry conditions, the immediate focus was on the front row, as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost lined up together. It was the first time they had sat on the same row as each other since the infamous 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, and may wondered how Prost would react. Further intrigue was added by the fact that the McLaren MP4/6 that Senna wielded had not done much testing, whereas Prost's Ferrari 642 was well developed, but still had issues when handling was considered. Regardless, their old rivaly was set to rise when the lights went out on Sunday.
A perfect start for Senna saw him immediately seize the lead, with Prost left to fend off a storming start by Nigel Mansell, the Brit climbing above team mate Riccardo Patrese. Jean Alesi was another quick started, latching onto the back of Patrese, as Nelson Piquet fell behind both the Frenchman and Gerhard Berger in the second McLaren. By the end of the first lap, Senna was already in command of the race, as Alesi darted past Patrese to take fourth, already repaying Ferrari's faith in him.
The front three began to gap themselves to both each other, and the rest of the field, as Alesi failed to break away from Patrese's Williams. The veteran Italian, making his 210th start, forced his way back past the #28 Ferrari on lap 16, before jetting off in pursuit of team mate Mansell. A risky move caused both Williams to lose time on lap 22, with Mansell taking avoiding action, while Patrese rejoined behind Alesi and Berger after using a slip road. The trio battled away for fourth over the following laps, as fatigue began to affect the latest generation of F1 machinery.
The first retirement of the season had been Éric Bernard, who had ground to a hault on the fifth lap after an engine failure. He was soon to be joined by the two Dallara-Judds which had impressed so much in qualifying, and Gianni Morbidelli with various issues. A few more retirements hit the lower orders as the race approached half distance, before problems began to hit the leaders.
As Patrese forced his way past Berger on lap 35, he flashed past the dying Williams-Renault of team mate Nigel Mansell, out with a gearbox failure. Then, as Patrese was about to launch an attack at the scarlet Ferrari ahead of him, Berger fell away, a fuel pump problem ending his race prematurely. But, with Mansell and Berger no longer a concern, Patrese focused on taking Alesi, pulling off a clean manoeuvre on lap 43, with the Frenchman diving into the pits for fresh tyres.
The Italian set his sights on Prost over the following laps, hounding the back of the #27 Ferrari three laps after Alesi bailed (rejoining in seventh). Prost also opted for new rubber, allowing the charging Williams into second, while a problem on the right rear tyre during the stop dropped Prost behind team mate Alesi when he rejoined. As Patrese's charge continued, Senna pitted on lap 48, calmly rejoining in the lead, as Patrese was hit by gearbox issues.
With an identical problem to Mansell, Patrese spun when the car suddenly put itself into neutral through turn seven, putting him out of the race. Nelson Piquet and Mika Häkkinen (making his début) swerved either side of the stricken Williams when their battle came across Patrese, before Roberto Moreno removed his front wheel and the nose of the Williams while trying to get past. Moreno crashed out, although neither he, nor Patrese, were injured. Their two cars were left where they came to rest, which ultimately caused the sole Jordan of Bertrand Gachot to lose time, after the Belgian was forced to put himself into a spin to avoid them.
With Piquet and Alesi battling hard, and Prost charging through the field, dispatching of Stefano Modena with relative ease, few could see Senna being beaten, holding an minute strong lead as the race reached its final stages. Prost caught his team mate's duel a few laps after he forced his way past Modena, although Piquet and Alesi were in no mood to allow him to walk by. Alesi had snuck through into second on lap 53, only to see Piquet use his wily skills to hound the back of his Ferrari, as Senna continued to lead with ease.
Suddenly, Prost was seen in second on lap 70, having studied the battle going on ahead of him for several laps. Piquet used the superior speed of the Benetton-Ford to pull past Alesi's Ferrari on the straight down to turn five, with Prost using Alesi's slipstream to do the same. He then opted to dive up the inside of Piquet, pulling across the nose of Alesi in the braking zone, slicing his way past the Brazilian legend at the apex. Prost's charge to the back of Senna however, was to be in vein, as the World Champion continued on faultlessly.
Alesi, meanwhile, dropped out with a gearbox problem nine laps from the end, putting Piquet solidly onto the podium. Gachot ground to a halt five laps from the end, tantilisingly close to scoring debut points for Jordan, while Hakkinen's race had ended on lap 59 with an engine failure. Yet, these retirements were of no concern to Senna, who duly crossed the line to take his 27th career win, as Prost and Piquet completed a podium containing eight World Championships.
Modena, meanwhile, remained on the lead lap to take fourth for Tyrrell-Honda, with Satoru Nakajima adding two points for fifth. Aguri Suzuki survived the final barrage of retirements to take sixth, a lap ahead of Nicola Larini. Martin Brundle cruised home in eleventh as the last of those to physically cross the line, eight laps down for Brabham, still behind the retired Pierluigi Martini and the new Jordan in Gachot's hands.
The complete results from the 1991 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
- * Martini, Gachot and Alesi were still classified despite retiring as they had completed 90% of the race distance.
Ayrton Senna took a commanding lead in the Championship, after rival Alain Prost battled up and down the field to finish second. Nelson Piquet's third place meant he had points on the board early on, as did the two Tyrrell-Honda entries of Stefano Modena and Satoru Nakajima. Aguri Suzuki was the only other driver to score points, taking sixth.
McLaren and engine partner Honda led the way in the Constructors Championship, with Ferrari in second. Moreno and Nakajima's combined score put Tyrrell ahead of Benetton, while the Lola-Ford entries of Larousse F1 rounded out the table of those who had scored.
Videos and Images:
- Stuart Seeger, 'Start 1991 USA.jpg', wikipedia.org, (WikiMedia Commons, 10/03/1991), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Start_1991_USA.jpg, (Accessed 01/08/2015)
- Stuart Seeger, 'Patrese Chases Alesi', flickr.com, (Flickr, 10/03/1991), https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuseeger/216862645/in/album-72157611842567339/, (Accessed 01/08/2015)
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: UNITED STATES GP, 1991', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 1999), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr501.html, (Accessed 31/07/2015)
|V T E||United States Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Sebring (1959), Riverside (1960), Watkins Glen (1961–1980), Phoenix (1989–1991), Indianapolis (2000–2007), Austin (2012–present)|
|Formula One Races||1959 • 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981–1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992–1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008–2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020|
|Non-F1 races||1908 • 1909 • 1910 • 1911 • 1912 • 1913 • 1914 • 1915 • 1916 • 1917–1957 • 1958|
|See also||United States Grand Prix West • Indianapolis 500 • Detroit Grand Prix • Caesars Palace Grand Prix • Dallas Grand Prix • Questor Grand Prix|
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