1991 Japanese Grand Prix Senna celebrates his third championship title

Today’s ‘F1 Rewind’ feature marks the twentieth anniversary of Ayrton Senna claiming his third and final World Championship crown, with the great Brazilian achieving the feat when his championship rival Nigel Mansell spun his Williams off into the gravel early in the race.

Coming into the penultimate round of the 1991 season, Mansell (69 points) needed to win to keep his championship hopes alive, while Senna (85 points) simply needed to finish ahead of Mansell. But with Senna having not won since the Belgian Grand Prix, and Williams having won each of the three previous races, there was still everything to play for.

Senna’s cause was helped by McLaren claiming a front-row lockout in qualifying, with Gerhard Berger enjoying a late-season qualifying surge to claim pole by 0.198 seconds from Senna. Mansell would start from the second row, sharing it with Alain Prost.

Acting as the hare for Mansell to chase, Berger led away from pole while Senna slotted into second place, keeping Mansell at bay and away from the lead he so desperately Mansell skates off into the gravel, his title hopes now overcoveted.

After hounding Senna for nine laps, Mansell was beginning to look for a way by the Brazilian. But on the tenth lap, he carried too much speed into Turn 1, ran wide on the exit kerbing and slid straight into the gravel. His race was over, and Senna was the 1991 World Champion.

But the race wasn’t over yet. Now free of Mansell, Senna began his chase of Berger, who had overcooked his tyres trying to build a gap over the Senna-Mansell battle.

On Lap 18, Berger let Senna by, and the pair sauntered to a McLaren 1-2, trading fastest laps as they went.

Further down the order, Michael Schumacher (after suffering a huge smash in qualifying) had taken his Benetton into the points and was hotly pursued by Pierluigi Martini in the Minardi, but both would retire with mechanical gremlins in the closing stages.

This left Martin Brundle to claim a plucky fifth in his Brabham, the last ever points for the team.

In the closing stages, Berger dropped back as his Honda engine began to sound rough, but on the final lap, Senna moved over for his team-mate within sight of the finish line, a perhaps disingenuous way of thanking the Austrian for playing the role of dutiful number-two all season.


The closing laps of the 1991 Japanese GP, where Senna claimed his third F1 crown



1991 Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (53 laps):

Driver Team Laps Result Grid
1. Gerhard Berger AUT McLaren – Honda V12 MP4/6 53 1:32:10.695 1
2. Ayrton Senna BRZ McLaren – Honda V12 MP4/6 53 + 0.344 2
3. Riccardo Patrese ITA Williams – Renault V10 FW14B 53 + 56.731 5
4. Alain Prost FRA Scuderia Ferrari V12 643 53 + 1:20.761 4
5. Martin Brundle GBR Brabham – Yamaha V12 BT60Y 52 1 lap behind 19
6. Stefano Modena ITA Tyrrell – Honda V10 021 52 1 lap behind 14
7. Nelson Piquet BRZ Benetton – Ford V8 B191 52 1 lap behind 10
8. Maurício Gugelmin BRZ Leyton House – Ilmor V10 CG911 52 1 lap behind 18
9. Thierry Boutsen BEL Ligier – Lamborghini V12 JS35B 52 1 lap behind 17
10. Alex Caffi ITA Footwork – Cosworth V8 FA12C 51 2 laps behind 26
11. Olivier Grouillard FRA Fondmetal Cosworth V8 F1 50 3 laps behind 24
DNF. Érik Comas FRA Ligier – Lamborghini V12 JS35B 41 Alternator 20
DNF. Pierluigi Martini ITA Minardi – Ferrari V12 M191 39 Clutch 7
DNF. Michael Schumacher DEU Benetton – Ford V8 B191 34 Engine 9
DNF. Johnny Herbert GBR Lotus – Judd V8 102B 31 Engine 23
DNF. Satoru Nakajima JPN Tyrrell – Honda V10 021 30 Suspension 15
DNF. Aguri Suzuki JPN Lola – Cosworth V8 91 26 Electrical 25
DNF. Gianni Morbidelli ITA Minardi – Ferrari V12 M191 15 Wheel 8
DNF. Nigel Mansell GBR Williams – Renault V10 FW14B 9 Spin 3
DNF. Alessandro Zanardi ITA Jordan – Cosworth V8 191 7 Gearbox 13
DNF. Mika Häkkinen FIN Lotus – Judd V8 102B 4 Spin 21
DNF. Andrea de Cesaris ITA Jordan – Cosworth V8 191 1 Collision 11
DNF. JJ Lehto FIN Dallara – Judd V10 191 1 Collision 12
DNF. Emanuele Pirro ITA Dallara – Judd V10 191 1 Collision 16
DNF. Karl Wendlinger AUT Leyton House – Ilmor V10 CG911 1 Collision 22
DNF. Jean Alesi FRA Scuderia Ferrari V12 643 0 Engine 6
DNQ. Michele Alboreto ITA Footwork – Cosworth V8 FA12C
DNQ. Nicola Larini ITA Modena – Lamborghini V12 291
DNQ. Eric van de Poele BEL Modena – Lamborghini V12 291
DNQ. Éric Bernard FRA Lola – Cosworth V8 91 Injured
NPQ. Mark Blundell GBR Brabham – Yamaha V12 BT60Y
NPQ. Naoki Hattori JPN Coloni – CosworthV8 C4
Ayrton Senna BRZ McLaren – Honda V12 MP4/6 39 1:41.532

Images via F1-Facts, StatsF1, The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.