I was there… for Senna’s emotional home victory in ‘91

www.formula1.com|14-Nov-2019 16:30

14 November 2019

Hall of Fame Journalist David Tremayne has attended every race on the Grand Prix calendar since the beginning of 1988. Here he recounts his recollections of the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, Round 2 on that year’s schedule and best remembered as the race when Ayrton Senna finally scored the home victory he’d always craved…

It was, he said, a gift from God.

After seven fruitless attempts, Ayrton Senna had finally achieved a heartfelt goal, to win in front of his countrymen.

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When I arrived in Interlagos on Thursday, March 21, 1991, there was a tangible air of expectation that the local hero would finally deliver. It was one of those gut feelings you had, that this time the luck finally had to run with him.

In seven previous outings in Brazil, in both Rio and at Interlagos, his local track, Senna had managed two podium finishes – but after dominating the ’91 season opener in Phoenix, surely he’d get no better shot at the success he craved on his home soil.

Senna's rain dance

There were plenty of things to talk about over dinner that Thursday evening. A baby-faced Ross Brawn had just unveiled the gorgeous purple sportscar beast he had designed for Tom Walkinshaw and Jaguar, the exciting XJR-14.

FIA chief Jean-Marie Balestre had been unusually silent about the recent CART Indycar race at Surfers Paradise, after brashly threatening all sorts of sanctions in Phoenix.

And there were renewed rumours that Mercedes were finally going to come back to F1, spearheaded by none other than Niki Lauda…

But on some fronts nothing had changed, prompting a strong sense of deja vu. It was raining just as it had been the previous year when we arrived, which made it a pain getting to the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, especially as I recall my colleagues and I were, for some reason, staying downtown, so had to fight miles of traffic with all the kids on mopeds speeding through gaps as they played endless and irritating warning beep-beeps on their feeble horns.

But the weather gave us a chance to watch Ayrton in the wet during the first practice session on Friday, and he was still dominant.

As Nigel Mansell had a few off-track adventures in the exciting new Williams-Renault, which was largely the work of the emergent Adrian Newey, and Riccardo Patrese damaged his when he whacked it over a steep kerb, I loved watching Ayrton sliding the McLaren MP4/6 Honda around with his easy elegance as he topped the session and then went even quicker when things had improved in the afternoon. I felt sorry for his team mate Gerhard Berger, who was the better part of a second slower; Nigel a disappointing third.

Saturday dawned wet too, but things quickly improved. Our Nige was fastest in the morning, which injected excitement into the proceedings. He was his usual ebullient self and now seemed to have a car that matched his talents. I smiled as he immediately put in a barnstormer of a lap in the afternoon’s quali session, and chuckled that he’d tossed the gauntlet into the McLaren camp.