1991 Canadian Grand Prix - Mansell gives away victory to Piquet

The victory at the 1991 Formula 1 Grand Prix was within reach for Briton Nigel Mansell, but the Williams driver ruined everything with just two kilometres to go.

1991 Canadian Grand Prix - Mansell gives away victory to Piquet
Nigel Mansell, Williams Renault FW14 and Riccardo Patrese, Williams Renault FW14
Nigel Mansell, Williams FW14 Renault, Peter Windsor
Stefan Johansson, Footwork FA12 Porsche
Nigel Mansell, Williams FW14 Renault
Alain Prost, Ferrari 642, Jean Alesi, Ferrari 642
Riccardo Patrese, Williams FW14 Renault
Bertrand Gachot, Jordan 191
Nelson Piquet, Benetton B191 Ford
Nelson Piquet, Benetton B191 Ford, takes the chequered flag
Podium: race winner Nelson Piquet, Benetton Ford

When he arrived in Montréal, McLaren’s Ayrton Senna was on a spectacular winning streak. The Brazilian had won the first four Grand Prix events of the year – Phoenix, Brazil, San Marino and Monaco. Meanwhile, his arch rival, Williams’ Nigel Mansell had scored only six points in four races after he ended second to Senna on the twisty streets of in Monaco.

Fast, but not fully reliable

The Williams team had less time than it would have liked to test and develop the Renault V10-powered FW14 prior to the US Grand Prix at Phoenix, and the car, although very fast, was far from being perfectly reliable.

On the Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Montréal, Riccardo Patrese captured pole position in his Williams FW14-Renault with a time of 1m19”837. His teammate, Nigel Mansell, qualified second with a time of 1m20”255. Ayrton Senna was third in the McLaren MP4/6-Honda ahead of Alain Prost in the Ferrari 642. The diminutive Roberto Moreno had out qualified his famed teammate, Nelson Piquet. Moreno, driving a Benetton B191-Ford, was fifth on the grid, ahead of Gerhard Berger (McLaren), Jean Alesi (Ferrari) and Piquet.

In the race, Nigel Mansell led all laps but one, the most important of all - the last one. What happened?

Mansell in perfect control

At the start, Mansell got away well and led from Patrese, Senna, Prost, Berger, and Moreno. Berger retired early with electronics woes. Moreno was out on Lap 10 when he spun off, and Prost’s Ferrari was suffering from gearbox glitches.

On Lap 25, Mansell led Patrese and Senna, but moments later, the Brazilian was forced into a retirement when his alternator failed. The Williams duo led with a confortable cushion over the rest of the field. Two laps later, both Ferraris retired, leaving the Scuderia in great distress.

Suddenly, the semi-automatic gearbox in Patrese’ car started by misbehave, allowing Piquet to close on him. On Lap 41, Piquet powered into second place while Patrese slid down to sixth. Ten laps later, the order was Mansell, Piquet, Patrese and the surprising Stefano Modena in his Tyrrell 020-Honda.

With just one lap to cover, a little more than four kilometres, Mansell enjoyed a solid 57-sec lead over Piquet, the oldest driver in the race at 39. For Mansell, the victory was his and he started waving at the crowd.

When he arrived at the hairpin corner, his Williams suddenly slowed down and came to a halt. Piquet therefore took a most unexpected victory for Benetton at the expense of his old rival Mansell, whom he had battled with such ferocity at Williams in 1986 and '87.

Mansell was obviously disgusted. “It is almost unbelievable. I went into the hairpin changed down from fifth to fourth, like I had done the previous 68 laps, and then it went to neutral and the engine cut almost simultaneously, like there was an electrical failure. It just stopped, it was as simple as that,” the Englishman said at the time.

Several sources insists that the gesticulating Mansell allowed the engine revs to drop, which precipitated an engine stall, due to a known characteristic whereby the alternator could not produce enough power to maintain the engine management system baseline voltage at low revs.

Piquet collected a surprising victory while Modena was a delighted second on the podium. Patrese was third with Andrea de Cesaris and Bertrand Gachot in the Jordan-Fords fourth and fifth and Mansell classified sixth despite his stoppage on the race track.

‘It ain't over till it's over’…

 

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