Ayrton Senna had set the F1 world on fire since 1984, and by the time he came to race at home in 1991 – his seventh try – he was a double world champion and well on his way to being regarded as one of the greats. But, savouring a race victory at Interlagos was something missing off his already impressive list of achievements.
He couldn’t have asked for a better start, racing away from pole position to lead from Nigel Mansell by over 3 seconds in less than 10 laps. The Williams was on par, if not faster, than the McLaren, and the lead was cut back to only 0.7 seconds after 20 laps. Mansell then stopped for tyres, but it was a disaster, lasting over 14 seconds, which gave Ayrton some breathing space after his stop. The gap was 7 seconds, but Mansell carried on chipping away.
However it would not be a successful afternoon for the Brit. Having to stop for new tyres after running over debris he fell way behind the leading cars. He began to take chunks out of the Brazilian’s lead, setting fastest lap in the process, but eventually retired on lap 61 with gearbox failure. His teammate, Ricardo Patrese, took up the challenge, but with his gearbox starting to give up the ghost he slowed, and Senna cruised home to send the partisan crowd into rapture.
But it emerged that it hadn’t been as easy as everyone thought. Senna had fought his own gearbox gremlins – first losing fourth gear, then fifth, then third – and had to drive by pushing the gear lever into the 6th gear slot and keep the car going. It was a Herculean effort, epitomised by the face that he passed out on the victory lap, and had to be driven to the paddock by the medical car.
On the podium Senna looked like a broken man. With spasms in his shoulders and back keeping his arms down, he struggled to lift the trophy. But, with one last effort he raised it above his head, to the roar of the crowd below. It had been a long time coming, but Brazil’s favourite son had finally delivered a victory at home.
Thanks to Sutton Images, you can relive some of the excitement of Brazil 1991!