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United States  1991 United States Grand Prix
Race details
Race 1 of 16 in the 1991 Formula One season
Phoenix Grand Prix Route - 1991.svg
Date March 10, 1991
Official name XXVIII Iceberg United States Grand Prix
Location Phoenix street circuit
Phoenix, Arizona
Course Temporary Road Course
3.721 km (2.312 mi)
Distance 81 laps, 301.401 km (187.282 mi)
Weather Clear and Warm
Pole position
Driver Brazil Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda
Time 1:21.434
Fastest lap
Driver France Jean Alesi Ferrari
Time 1:26.758 on lap 49
First Brazil Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda
Second France Alain Prost Ferrari
Third Brazil Nelson Piquet Benetton-Ford

The 1991 United States Grand Prix was a Formula One race held on March 10, 1991 in Phoenix, Arizona.



Ayrton Senna's new McLaren-Honda had not turned a wheel prior to arriving in Phoenix for the start of the 1991 Formula One season, but when it did, no one could even stay close. On pole by more than a second over rival Alain Prost, Senna stamped his authority on the race from the green light, leaping into an immediate lead and leading every lap.

The start of the race, with Ayrton Senna leading the field.

The 1991 McLaren chassis had only had one brief test session, and the two race cars were completed about 4 am Friday, six hours before the first practice session. Not many believed it could be ready to win, but Senna predicted that the new V-12 Honda would eventually be better than the previous year's V-10.

Working to prepare the new car, Senna claimed he had never gotten totally comfortable with the increasing complexity of the sport since helping Lotus introduce the first active suspension car in 1987, and he still found it hard to embrace the huge role of computers in achieving a proper setup. "Friday, to understand and interpret things properly, I worked with the engineers into the evening," Senna said. "It has been a long time since I did that. The engineers and I talked our way around the circuit, then we compared this with what the computer predicted. It was great because the computer confirmed almost everything, and it also showed where there was room for improvement."

Alain Prost on the first lap in the Ferrari.
Ayrton Senna took a comfortable win in his McLaren MP4/6.

The Ferraris of Alain Prost and Jean Alesi were expected to be the strongest team, but their V-12s and 7-speed semiautomatic gearboxes were not well suited to the tight turns and short straights of the street circuit. As it turned out, they were not the only ones plagued by gearbox problems throughout the race, but they fared better than most.

This would be the first Grand Prix since Senna and Prost had tangled at Suzuka in the season's last race [sic - it was actually the penultimate race in both seasons] for the second consecutive year. In 1989, their collision as teammates secured Prost's third World Championship; in 1990, with Prost driving for Ferrari and still in title contention, it handed Senna his second crown. Controversy regarding the nature of the 1990 incident had created great anticipation for the rematch.

On Sunday, Prost began his second season at Ferrari alongside Senna on the front row. At the start, he fell in behind the Brazilian, with Nigel Mansell slipping ahead of Riccardo Patrese. Alesi and Gerhard Berger followed, then Nelson Piquet, Roberto Moreno, Stefano Modena and Emanuele Pirro. A lap later, Alesi, in his first race for Ferrari, swept past Patrese, but by then Senna was pulling away. After ten laps, he had a lead of ten seconds over Prost.

Behind Senna, the most ambitious driver on the track in the early laps was Patrese, as he found himself on the tail of two separate but sensational three-way battles. First, after getting back by Alesi for fourth on lap 16, Patrese closed on Mansell who was immediately behind Prost. By lap 22, Patrese was close enough to attack his Williams teammate but overshot onto the escape road, as Mansell swerved to avoid him. Upon rejoining, Patrese quickly latched onto Alesi and Berger, as the new three-car train now covered fourth through sixth places. Patrese had gotten past Berger when, suddenly, two of the top six runners retired on consecutive laps. On lap 35, Mansell pulled over when the Williams' new semi-automatic gearbox failed, and on the next time around, Berger's race ended as well.

When Patrese passed Alesi for the second time, Alesi realized the Ferrari had eaten up his D-compound Goodyear tires, and he was forced to pit on lap 43. He rejoined in seventh. Three laps later, Prost was being hounded by Patrese, and he also pitted, ceding second spot to the Williams. When the Ferrari crew had problems changing his right rear tire, the Frenchman dropped to seventh behind Modena's Tyrrell-Honda.

The most frightening moment of the race came on lap 50, two laps after Senna had pitted without giving up the lead. Like Mansell, Patrese was having problems with the gearbox in his Williams, and when it selected neutral midway through Turn Seven, it caused him to spin out of second place. The car stopped on the outside of the track, perpendicular to the racing line. Piquet and Mika Häkkinen (making his F1 debut) barely managed to avoid him as they passed, but before Patrese could get out of the car, Moreno, in the second Benetton, went straight across the bow of the Williams, removing the nose of Patrese's car and the right front wheel of the Benetton. Neither driver was injured, and Patrese leaped from his cockpit and high-stepped his way off the course. Inexplicably, Patrese and Moreno's cars remained on the course throughout the race, and the impressive Bertrand Gachot, driving the first race for the new Jordan team and challenging Satoru Nakajima, spun later after swerving to avoid them; apparently, he figured they would have been taken care of by then!

With Patrese out, Senna led Piquet, who was having to hold off Alesi, by over a minute. Alesi squeezed up to second on lap 53, while four laps later Prost disposed of Modena. Then on lap 70, with one brilliant move into Turn Five, Prost went from fourth to second. With Alesi and Piquet running second and third, Piquet's Benetton pulled alongside Alesi– who had set the race's fastest lap while Prost was in the pits– in Turn Four, but could not get by. Down the straight, however, Piquet passed Alesi for second place. Prost also went by his new teammate on the left, and then sliced back to the right, between Alesi and Piquet, beating Piquet to the apex of Turn Five and regaining second place. By now Senna led by 40 seconds, pacing himself, and Prost simply consolidated second.

Gearbox troubles dropped Alesi to fifth before he retired less than 10 laps from the finish, leaving third place to Piquet who, like the two Tyrrells following, had never pitted for tires. Martini was pressing Nakajima for fifth, only to have his engine let go after 75 laps. A similar problem removed Gachot from eighth on the same lap, promoting Suzuki to sixth. The race ended a lap short of the planned 82 as the two-hour limit was reached.

After the race, Senna assessed his new car's performance: "I had small problems with the gearbox, and the car balance was not optimum, so it was very difficult to drive. I'm looking forward to running a proper circuit with proper conditions and see what the car can do." Prost and the rest of the field could only imagine how they were going to catch him when that happened. Indeed, they rarely did and Senna would go on to capture his second consecutive, third and final Driver's Championship.


The race was the Jordan team's first in F1. Bertrand Gachot was classified tenth after a late-race engine failure prevented him from finishing.
Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 1 Brazil Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda 81 2:00.47.828 1 10
2 27 France Alain Prost Ferrari 81 + 16.322 2 6
3 20 Brazil Nelson Piquet Benetton-Ford 81 + 1:17.376 5 4
4 4 Italy Stefano Modena Tyrrell-Honda 81 + 1:25.409 11 3
5 3 Japan Satoru Nakajima Tyrrell-Honda 80 + 1 Lap 16 2
6 30 Japan Aguri Suzuki Larrousse-Ford 79 + 2 Laps 21 1
7 34 Italy Nicola Larini Lambo-Lamborghini 78 + 3 Laps 17  
8 17 Italy Gabriele Tarquini AGS-Ford 77 + 4 Laps 22  
9 23 Italy Pierluigi Martini Minardi-Ferrari 75 Engine 15  
10 32 Belgium Bertrand Gachot Jordan-Ford 75 Engine 14  
11 7 United Kingdom Martin Brundle Brabham-Yamaha 73 + 8 Laps 12  
12 28 France Jean Alesi Ferrari 72 Gearbox 6  
13 11 Finland Mika Häkkinen Lotus-Judd 59 Engine 13  
Ret 6 Italy Riccardo Patrese Williams-Renault 49 Gearbox 3  
Ret 19 Brazil Roberto Moreno Benetton-Ford 49 Collision 8  
Ret 9 Italy Michele Alboreto Footwork-Porsche 41 Engine 25  
Ret 16 Italy Ivan Capelli Leyton House-Ilmor 40 Gearbox 18  
Ret 25 Belgium Thierry Boutsen Ligier-Lamborghini 40 Engine 20  
Ret 2 Austria Gerhard Berger McLaren-Honda 36 Fuel Pump 7  
Ret 5 United Kingdom Nigel Mansell Williams-Renault 35 Gearbox 4  
Ret 15 Brazil Maurício Gugelmin Leyton House-Ilmor 34 Gearbox 23  
Ret 8 United Kingdom Mark Blundell Brabham-Yamaha 32 Spun Off 24  
Ret 21 Italy Emanuele Pirro Dallara-Judd 16 Gearbox 9  
Ret 24 Italy Gianni Morbidelli Minardi-Ferrari 15 Gearbox 26  
Ret 22 Finland Jyrki Järvilehto Dallara-Judd 12 Gearbox 10  
Ret 29 France Éric Bernard Larrousse-Ford 4 Engine 19  
DNQ 10 Italy Alex Caffi Footwork-Porsche    
DNQ 18 Sweden Stefan Johansson AGS-Ford    
DNQ 26 France Érik Comas Ligier-Lamborghini    
DNQ 12 United Kingdom Julian Bailey Lotus-Judd    
DNPQ 33 Italy Andrea de Cesaris Jordan-Ford    
DNPQ 31 Portugal Pedro Chaves Coloni-Ford    
DNPQ 14 France Olivier Grouillard Fondmetal-Ford    
DNPQ 35 Belgium Eric van de Poele Lambo-Lamborghini    


  • First race: Mika Häkkinen, Mark Blundell, Eric van de Poele, Pedro Chaves
  • Last points: Satoru Nakajima
  • The Jordan and Modena teams made their first appearances here.
  • Nicola Larini's 7th place finish was the best results for the Lambo team.
  • Ayrton Senna was the first driver to receive 10 points for a victory under the new scoring scheme, and the win was his 27th, tying Jackie Stewart for second all-time, behind former teammate Prost. The other points scorers were also assured of keeping their points, since they would no longer be limited to their best 11 finishes on the season.
  • The race was attended by approximately 18,500 spectators. It is believed that more people attended an ostrich race held in the area on the same day.
  • Unknown at the time, of course, Senna's dominance for a fifth United States Grand Prix win would mark the end of 33 consecutive years of Formula One in America. At the beginning of the new millennium, F1 would return on a new course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
  • The race was Nigel Mansell's first in his familiar "Red 5" Williams since returning to the team after two years with Ferrari. He retired due to a gearbox problem.

External links


  • Dennis Simanaitis (June, 1991). "3rd United States Grand Prix at Phoenix: More Power To Ya". Road & Track, 133-136.
  • "Formula One Phoenix Grand Prix" Video (1992), BMG Video, New York.
Previous race:
1990 Australian Grand Prix
FIA Formula One World Championship
1991 season
Next race:
1991 Brazilian Grand Prix
Previous race:
1990 United States Grand Prix
United States Grand Prix Next race:
2000 United States Grand Prix

Coordinates: 33°26′52.5″N 112°4′28.5″W / 33.447917°N 112.074583°W / 33.447917; -112.074583



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