My personal recollections of bygone seasons has reached 1991 which saw McLaren-Honda take their fourth constructors championship in a row and their driver Ayrton Senna retain the drivers title, his third overall.
The big difference from the previous three seasons was that the championship was not the usual battle between Senna and Alain Prost. Prost, who had been runner up the previous season scored no wins and could only finish fifth in the standings. Furthermore, he was sacked by Ferrari before the final race in Adelaide after publicly criticising the team. Nigel Mansell was championship runner up with the rejuvenated Williams-Renault scoring five wins to Senna’s seven.
My first race was the British Grand Prix at Silverstone travelling up and back from London each day. There was a major change to the circuit’s layout with the addition of the new Luffield section between Farm and Woodcote. Courtesy of my friend Dave Morgan, who was engineering Eric Van de Poele in the new Lambo-Lamborghini, I had access on the Thursday so was able to have a good look at the current season’s runners and riders as they prepared for the weekend.
Mansell won the race whilst Senna giving chase in second place ran out of fuel on the last lap and was ultimately classified fourth. He hitched a ride back to the pits atop Mansell’s Williams on his victory lap, a scene that has been reproduced in numerous photographs, paintings and miniatures. Apparently, Senna made good use of the time on the ride back by studying Mansell’s cockpit settings and read-outs.
I maintained my usual routine for the Belgian Grand Prix by attending Saturday and Sunday driving there and back overnight and spending Saturday night in a hotel in Brussels. since the Hungarian Grand Prix Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot had been imprisoned in the UK for assault on a taxi driver and was replaced at Spa by a German sportscar driver I had never heard of called Michael Schumacher. There was a lot of support in eveidence for the Belgian Gachot with graffiti on the track and anti British T-shirts.
Schumacher qualified well in seventh place but was the first retirement in the race, not even completing one lap. Senna won with team mate Gerhard Berger second.
Barcelona was a city I had always wanted to visit so when the Spanish Grand Prix moved to the brand new Circuit de Catalunya at Montmelo some thirty kilometres away it was the perfect destination for a European holiday. My girlfriend and I stayed at a hotel on Las Ramblas where we could have a drink on the balcony watching the street entertainment below. Our visit coincided with the festival of Mercè, a public holiday, with the parade of gigantes (giants) and a spectacular firework display at the fountains of Montjuich. We spent the days not at the race track exploring Montjuich and its attractions including the Pueblo Espanol and for me retracing the former Grand Prix circuit, surely the most scenic ever. We also visited the mountains of Montsarrat and went swimming from the beaches of Sitges and Barcelonetta. Friends and family joined us later in the week, one of whom had been mechanic to Pedro Rodriguez at Cooper-Maserati back in the day and that made for a few good evenings out.
I have been back to Barcelona several times since and although still a great destination it lost much of its pre-Olympics character and rustic charm when it was ‘regenerated’ for mass tourism especially around the beach and port area. Motor racing aside, my first visit to Barcelona must rate as one of the most enjoyable holidays I have had.
As for the race itself, the circuit is easily reached by rail and a brisk walk through the town of Montmelo which was still asleep in the mornings but had come to life by the evening return. The new track was pristine but the spectator areas were just about ready, muddy and still being prepared in parts. Viewing was good though, and apart from grandstands along the main straight the whole track was accessible by general admission. Whilst walking around I just happened to be in the right places to watch Mansell outbrake Senna into the first turn having run side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel down the main straight, and later when he overtook the other McLaren of Gerhard Berger at turn 4 for the lead.
Mansell won and with only two races left trailed Senna in the Championship by sixteen points with twenty still available. Senna, however, clinched the title at the following race by finishing second to team mate Berger who he let through to win by some pre-race agreement.
The final race at Adelaide holds the record for the shortest Grand Prix ever, just fourteen laps, after it was halted in torrential rain with Senna as the winner.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.