June 4th, 2012 (F1plus / Gustavo A. Roche).- The date was September 29 of 1991, late in the year compared to the current customary allocation in the spring, for the Spanish Grand Prix. It was the first for the great city of Barcelona, which was carrying the Olympic momentum and built a modern track north of the city in the neighborhood of Montmeló.
The circuit had a good mix of everything, just like today (minus a chicane at the end of the lap), but back then, it was unknown what the races were going to be. Still they were exciting times.
The battle for the title was being led by no other but Ayrton Senna, who now as an experience driver was able to hold off the mighty and sometimes superior Williams-Renault of Nigel Mansell and Ricardo Patrese.Frank Williams had just started to assemble the most innovative Formula 1 car of all time (at least for many), the FW15, which took a few bumps to find its proper functionality with its predecessor from the 1991 season, the FW14, still a formidable machine.
The Grand Prix was going to take place just a week after the Portuguese race that saw Patrese to beat Senna, but only after race leader Mansell lost a wrongly placed wheel at the end of the pit lane and was disqualified after his pit crew went over and fixed the issue right there were it was not supposed to be.
Mansell overatking Senna at the end of the straight at the 1991 Spanish GP.
This episode helped Senna to distance himself from his main predator, the Brit Mansell, by 24 points.
To spice things up, several small teams made changes with their driver line-ups and a new FIA chief was elected: Max Mosley, who replaced another odd character, Jean-Marie Balestre.
The ‘pole’ test rendered the somewhat expected outlook for the race as Gerhard Berger got the best out of his MP4/6 (McLaren) and earned the right to start from first on Sunday, just ahead of Mansell, with Senna third and Ricardo Patrese fourth.
It was part of the talk that Mansell had twisted his ankle in a football match, so he might have not been at his best, but it is up to discussion if that was entirely the case and his condition was minimized a bit, sounds more like a diversion strategy to us.
The track was wet but drying as it had rained that morning, so teams were pondering the tyre choice, with most opting for wet ones. At the start Mansell made an awful beginning and was overtaken by Senna who took second place behind Berger. Schumacher also overtook Mansell just at the end of the first lap.
Bergen seemed to drive comfortable as he generated some distance, while there was a fight behind him for second, but mostly for third between, Senna, Schumacher, Mansell and Alesi who joined the party.
There was no match for the powerful Renault engine and the demon on wheels of Mansell. The Brit took ownership of the second spot, but to that he did have to push. Our memories of entire races are usually vague, but sometimes, a particular moment just gets fixed. This was one of them.
In 1991, there was no chicane to slow cars down when coming to the main straight, so carrying the momentum was basically the only “natural” aid to go for an overtake. Entering the main straight at Circuit of Catalunya, and you have Mansell going behind Senna and his slipstream, until he opens to a side and goes for the position. Well...it felt it went on for minutes as the two cars went wheel-to-wheel that entire straight. It was incredible to see how hard Senna was trying to hold him off, and how hard Mansell was using everything he and his Williams had to make it first to the corner; like two titans battling for their pride. Besides the few inches that separated each wheel for the whole episode, it was amazing to witness the slow progress for the overtaking maneuver to be successful, and it you pay close attention you could even see the difficulty that it was to keep the car in straight position at those speeds (more than 325kph). The camera angle helped a little, as did the sparks coming from under both cars.
After this dramatic and exciting moment, rain came and positions shuffled to a point in which Senna was leading, but not for long as his teammate kept taking care of business and retook the lead to then lose it because of an electric failure (The Austrian was the fastest that weekend).
The Brit from Williams ended up taking the victory, while championship leader Senna spun and finished the race in fifth, a result that shortened the distance in the top of the standings table to 16 points.
Alain Prost managed to cross the line in second followed by Patrese and Jean Alesi in the other Ferrari.
The Spanish circuit long straight saw a memorable Formula 1 moment with Senna pushing Mansell to the limit.