Monaco Grand Prix – 1991

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Mônaco 1991

After prevailing in the first three races of the 1991 championship, Ayrton Senna was after his fourth win in the season and also his fourth victory in Monaco.

To win at Monaco is a challenge, beginning with the qualifying sessions, as the track does not allow for mistakes and has few overtaking opportunities. Ayrton Senna knew that he would have to get the pole position to increase his chances.

Thus, he was beyond pleased with the final qualifying results: he would start in first place in Monte Carlo, with a time of  1min20s344, the 56th pole position in his career.

That Sunday’s big surprise was starting right beside him: Tyrerell’s Stefano Modena, in his best starting grid position ever. The second row belonged to Williams’ Riccardo Patrese and Benetton’s nelson Piquet. Berger (McLaren) and Prost (Ferrari) made up the third row.

One of the problems foreseen by McLaren was that Ferrari already had a semi-automatic gearbox system, used for the first time in 1990, with which drivers didn’t have to take the right hand off the wheel to shift gears. Senna, who was left-handed, had an edge since his “good” hand was always gripping the steering wheel. In a track like Monaco, where one is constantly shifting gears, the ability to do it on the wheel itself could make life that much easier for the Italian team’s drivers.

That Sunday, May 12th, was Mother’s Day and Senna wanted his 30th victory to be Mrs, Neyde’s gift.

He had definite plans for the race when he felt a jerk in the car during warm up. He would have to start with the spare car. It was a race against time: the mechanics switched over the engine, gearbox and suspension under Senna’s watchful eye.

“I had to forget about that setback and concentrate on the race.”

He started well but was pressured by Stefano Modena (Tyrrell) shortly after. Piquet went straight ahead at the Mirabeau corner because of problems in the rear suspension, leading the Benetton driver to retire from the race. Berger spun off in the first lap, made a pit-stop to change the car’s front-end and came back to the race, but ended up crashing at the pool area in the 13th lap.

Senna got way from Modena, as the Tyrell driver had Patrese to worry about.

In the 43rd lap, the Tyrell’s Honda engine blew up, spilling oil at the tunnel’s exit. Patrese wasn’t able to keep the ideal course and crashed against the wall. The second place seemed to have fallen on Alain Prost’s lap, but Nigel Mansell started pressuring the Ferrari driver immediately after that.

Mansell managed to overtake him when exiting the tunnel on the 62nd lap, where the race officials had widened the chicane, making passing a little easier at that spot.

He changed tires as expected, but he would have a great challenge to face:

“Prost left the boxes ahead of me and I peeled out on the straightaway. I must admit, for a fraction of a second, I was afraid to pass him. We were competing for the lead in the championship and, well, you never know.”

Senna beautifully passed Prost’s Ferrari and claimed his fourth victory in Monaco and of the season. No drive,r, up until then, had ever won four times in the first four victories in a Formula One season. Mansell finished second, his first podium in Monaco. Jean Alesi rounded out the podium. Another Brazilian highlight was Roberto Pupo Moreno, who scored his first points in the season by finishing the Monaco Grand Prix in fourth place.

“I crossed the finish line completely destroyed.”

The palm of his right hand was raw from the force he applied to the gear shift totaling 3,120 gear changes over the course of 76 laps in the race. He had welts on his right shoulder from where the seatbelt pressed against his skin, creating creases in his race suit. But all this was forgotten once he crossed the finish line.

“There’s little that the victory pop of a champagne bottle can’t cure.”

Leading practically from start to finish, Senna no had 40 points overall. Prost had 11 and Berger, 10. The builder’s championship standings were also great for McLaren, who was on the verge of celebrating 25-years since its founding. The British team had 50 points, against Ferrari’s 16.

Race Summary

  • 1 Ayrton Senna
  • 2 S. Modena
  • 3 R. Patrese
  • 4 N. Piquet
  • 5 N. Mansell
  • 6 G. Berger
  • 7 A. Prost
  • 8 R. Moreno
  • 9 J. Alesi
  • 10 A. de Cesaris
  • 11 S. Nakajima
  • 12 E. Pirro
  • 13 J. Lehto
  • 14 P. Martini
  • 15 M. Gugelmin
  • 16 T. Boutsen
  • 17 G. Morbidelli
  • 18 I. Capelli
  • 19 A. Suzuki
  • 20 G. Tarquini
  • 21 E. Bernard
  • 22 M. Blundell
  • 23 E. Comas
  • 24 B. Gachot
  • 25 M. Alboreto
  • 26 M. Hakkinen
Turns 78
Time Nublado
Fastest lap A. Prost - 1´24´´368
Podium 1º Ayrton Senna 2º N. Mansell 3º J. Alesi
Cars 26
Leaving 14

Senna in race

Starting position 1
Final position 1
Best lap 1’25’’250
Points added to the Championship 10
Championship position after the race 1
What did he say after the race
“There’s little that the victory pop of a champagne bottle can’t cure.”