The 1991 F1 season: The year I re-connected with F1…

I have to admit that although I have watched Formula One for 30 years, Man and Boy on the BBC, ITV and Sky, that there was a time that I stopped watching the sport. The two seasons I missed out on watching were the 1989 and 1990 seasons.

Imagine that… Phil not watching Formula One…

SOMEBODY CALL THIS KID A DOCTOR!!!

This was due to several reasons. At the time I was 12 years old and due to many reasons My Family and I moved from my hometown of Bletchley in Buckinghamshire to a small town called Flitwick in Bedfordshire. With the hassles of moving schools, losing friends and not making new ones, finding life difficult being bullied and the fact that we were used to spending weekends busy around the house or exploring around Flitwick and ending up being bullied all the way home for tea…

Yup, I had a difficult childhood, but thats a different subject.

However, my love of Formula One was re-ignited thanks to the bout of Flu and Hayfever I suffered during the weekend of the 1991 British Grand Prix. I was off school for 2 weeks which back then felt like ages. During my time off, my Mum bought me a copy of the motor racing newspaper Motoring News (now Motorsport News) and a copy of the magazine Motor Sport.

My Mum knew I loved my motor racing. In fact she still loves watching F1 and reminding me when the “buzz buzz” is on and asking if am I watching it. Thanks Mum.

Anyway having watched Nigel Mansell power his Williams Renault FW14 to Pole Position on BBC Grandstand was epic on the Saturday lunchtime. But the race on Sunday was just epic…

Senna had qualified 2nd to Mansell but at the start he took the lead. My heart sank. Before the race I had read up on all the previews possible to learn about the first half of the season and how Senna had dominated the first 4 races at Phoenix, Sao Paulo, San Marino and Monaco. Suddenly the race had a look of Senna Domination heading its way…

But on the first lap at Stowe, Nigel asserted his position and retook the lead. Then he pushed…hard. Setting fastest lap after fastest lap he pushed to open up a gap to his title rival. Each time the Blue and Yellow car rocketed over the start/finish line, the crowd roared so loud the BBC Microphones picked it up clearly. Everyone at home watching TV and trackside was cheering on “Il Leone.”

Even me, laid up on the sofa, sweating horribly, cheering on Nigel, shouting at the TV as my heart raced harder and faster, seeing the best in the world race at the home of UK Motorsport.

Having read about the Williams FW14’s poor reliability earlier in the season however, I was worried again, hoping the car would not break. Praying that the Adrian Newey designed car would stsy reliable. But that worry never came. Try as he might, Senna had no answer to Mansell and chased him so hard he ran out of fuel on the last lap.

To this day I have never forgotten the quote from Nigel when Murray Walker asked him what it was like to race at Silverstone in front of his home crowd and Nigel’s answer was that the support alone was worth “half a second a lap” and the crowd duly rewarded him by helping Nigel break the lap record on his way to his race victory. Mansell won from Berger and Prost on that day, 14th July 1991.

As he drove back to the pits and picked up Ayrton on the way, I was reminded of all the memories of watching Nigel race in the late 1980’s in the Williams-Honda, battling his team mate Nelson Piquet, Senna and Prost for the titles he would never win. The tyre explosion in the 1986 Australian Grand Prix, the pass he pulled on Nelson Piquet in the 1987 British Grand Prix. Watching him fight for every point he could score in 1988 in the Williams-Judd before his move to Ferrari in 1989.

And the Passion returned with a Fire in it. I was glued to the TV for the German Grand Prix, again watching Mansell race to his 3rd straight Grand Prix win in a row whilst team mate Patrese made it a Williams Renault 1-2. Senna would again run out of fuel on the last lap and Mansell closed in on the Brazilian in the Championship.

1991 continued to be a historic season where Mansell fought back at Senna after every setback. He chased him in Hungary, dominated at Monza to beat Senna again, lost points in Portugal due to a botched pitstop and subsequent disqualification, took the win in Spain passing Senna in that Iconic move into Turn 1…I can still hear James Hunt even now declaring proudly “This is wheel to wheel stuff here!” and the heartbreak of Mansell’s lost wheel in Japan sealing the title for Senna.

I recall watching the highlights of the final race of the season on Sunday Grandstand with my mum and two sisters, roast dinners placed on place mats on our laps. It was the Australian Grand Prix, the shortest race in F1 history at 16 laps and a very wet race. Senna led from Berger, Mansell and Piquet during the early laps, proving his wet weather prowess

Mansell would pass Berger for second but before the red flag came out, there was a massive crash on the Conrod Straight. With Monsoon conditions getting worse, cars aquaplaning off left  and right and safety vehicles trying to recover wrecked cars, Mansell would join the list of cars to spin out and hit the wall. Senna waved frantically to get the race stopped and it duly was. In the final results, Nigel was declared 2nd, sealing his 2nd place in the title race.

It capped off, what for me was and always is my favourite Formula One season.

Why? Because I feel in love with Formula One all over again.

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I watched Mansell romp to the 1992 title the following year in the FW14B and watched every race that the BBC showed be it live or recorded after that until 1997 when ITV took on the rights from there. My Passion, Excitement and Fire for the sport never died again regardless of the exciting races or controversey that followed.

It also sparked the beginning of my ever increasing following of motorsport from there with me collecting issues of Motoring News and Motor Sport to find out every detail I could to know what was happening in F1 and the BTCC to begin with and the gradual expansion to DTM, WTCC…

Well you know the rest.

Anyway, enjoy your weekend and any of the motorsport activities that you are watching live at trackside or at home live on TV.

Cheers

Phil.

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