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Racing With Ayrton Senna: 1991 British Grand Prix

Frozen in Time: 1991 British Grand Prix

What

British Grand Prix

Where

Silverstone, UK

When

July 1991

Steve Ryder: And with Ayrton Senna alongside you on the front row, that rundown to the first corner as well is going to be pretty critical, isn’t it?

Nigel Mansell (laughing): Who’s that… Yeah, you better believe it. Ayrton is going to be charging. There is nothing more that would delight him that to beat me at my home race.

[Mansell during a pre-race interview with British journalist Steve Ryder]

Race Brief

Clear skies defined that July race day at Silverstone. Nigel Mansell had dominated throughout the weekend – through the practice sessions, qualifying and even the morning warm-up. Chief rival and championship leader Ayrton Senna was at second place. The stands were packed, cheering and shouting Mansell’s name. This was going to be the Briton’s finest hour – a shot at the championship, a moment he had been waiting for. The season hadn’t started off that well for him.

Senna had set a record, winning the first four races of the season in quick succession. But his luck ran out as the McLaren sputtered through the remaining races, giving him a paltry third place in Mexico and France.

This was it then, the moment when Mansell would thrill the British crowds, win the race and stake claim to the championship. Or would this would be the moment when Senna would work his magic and extend his lead. The arena was the freshly, reworked Silverstone circuit, no longer fast, but with new challenging corners.

It wasn’t to be a glorious McLaren moment. The lights went off and the cars took off, with Senna elbowing his way and grabbing the lead. But it wasn’t for long. Mansell soon passed the Brazilian to the tune of cheering crowds and took the lead. He wouldn’t give that up. Instead Mansell set about extending his lead, building up an almost-insurmountable gap by the last lap. Senna tried to keep up, but couldn’t.

Nigel Mansell (Williams Renault) celebrates 1st position on the podium, with Gerhard Berger (McLaren Honda) 2nd position. FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre stands in front. World Copyright - LAT Photographic; Image courtesy Williams F1 (editorial use only)

Nigel Mansell (Williams Renault) celebrates 1st position on the podium, with Gerhard Berger (McLaren Honda) 2nd position. FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre stands in front. World Copyright – LAT Photographic; Image courtesy Williams F1 (editorial use only)

Meanwhile, a battle had broken out behind Senna, as teammate Gerhard Berger was determined to break his spate of bad luck. He passed Stefano Modena and made his way up the grid to 3rd place. Alain Prost took the 4th place as the racers made their way around the track for the final lap.

The drama wasn’t going to end there. Senna’s car lost its steam near the finish line, coming to a rolling halt. He was out of fuel! Mansell had managed to chip away at Senna’s lead in the championship standings. Giving him company on the podium were Berger and Prost, with Senna coming in at 4th place. These were dangerous times for the Brazilian who was determined to hold on to the championship trophy.

The Ayrton Moment

The 1991 British Grand Prix will always be remembered.

It will be remembered for the sheer mastery Williams demonstrated at the renovated Silverstone circuit.

It will be remembered as the day the Williams Renault team bulldozed McLaren into submission. Yes, also as the day Ayrton Senna tried his best to stay ahead, but just couldn’t keep up.

But there was definitely more to that day than just the race. That day played host to an iconic moment, and it is seared into the memories of F1 fans. It was the moment when Mansell pulled over on his victory lap, to give his arch-adversary Senna, a much-needed ride to the pit lane. On-track rivalry was forgotten, albeit briefly. Instead Senna in his yellow helmet held on to the Williams side-pod, as Mansell drove slowly around the track.

Nigel Mansell, Williams FW14-Renault, 1st position, gives Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/6-Honda, 4th position, a lift back to the pits, action. World Copyright: LAT Photographic; Image courtesy Williams F1 (editorial use only)

Nigel Mansell, Williams FW14-Renault, 1st position, gives Ayrton Senna, McLaren MP4/6-Honda, 4th position, a lift back to the pits, action.
World Copyright: LAT Photographic; Image courtesy Williams F1 (editorial use only)

It was there, in that very moment, amidst all the rivalries and all the battles on and off the track that the true meaning of Formula 1 was revealed. This was camaraderie in its truest form. There have been very few since.

Murray Walker: “…And Nigel Mansell stops to take his rival Ayrton Senna back to the pits. ‘On your way Nigel’, says Senna with a tap on the helmet. ‘Get off it,’ he says to the official or the spectator who comes…You know there has been a lot of talk of bad blood between Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna. This proves that there is not any bad blood…

James Hunt: “…that also proves that it was a jolly good idea to put that camera on the front, facing backwards because we get a look at both of them.”

NEXT: 1991 Spanish Grand Prix

PREVIOUS: 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Categorised in: Ayrton Senna, Faces

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