Throughout his years in Formula One, an environment where friendships are rare, one of Ayrton Senna’s best friends was Gerhard Berger, who was the Brazilian’s teammate at McLaren for three consecutive years (1990, 1991 and 1992). Out of all of Senna’s teammates, the Austrian was the one who had the best relationship with the three-time world champion.
The bond between the two of them could be seen at the F1 paddock in a series of practical jokes. They used to throw pieces of birthday cake at each other, (harmlessly) spike other people’s drinks and so on. Berger even threw Senna’s suitcase out of a flying helicopter, a story we have already told on our website.
And it was exactly 29 years ago today, on April 28, 1991, that Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger scored their first one-two as McLaren drivers, at the San Marino GP, in Imola.
Take a look back at all of the McLaren drivers’ one-twos that year:
1991 San Marino GP
On the eve of the race, Senna secured his sixth pole position in a row and started off the weekend on the right foot, while Berger would be starting in fifth place. It was raining hard on Sunday, and Riccardo Patrese overtook the Brazilian right at the start of the race. The stage was set for an exciting dispute, since they were the last two winners of the GP that took place at the Enzon and Dino Ferrari Raceway.
When the track started to dry off and Senna was able to get closer to Patrese’s Williams, the Italian made a pit-stop with engine problems and the Brazilian took over the race, securing his third win in three races at the start of the 1991 season.
Due to all the confusion caused by the rain at the start of the race, Berger finished in second place, and McLaren was able to celebrate its first one-two that year.
1991 Belgian GP
The 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, at Spa-Francorchamps, was a special one to Ayrton Senna, since it was his fifth win at his favorite circuit. It was also his fourth consecutive triumph at Spa, (1988, 1989, 1990 e 1991), matching the record set by Jim Clark, who had won at the track in every year from 1962 to 1965. The Brazilian’s first victory there had taken place in 1985, with team Lotus.
Senna’s fifth win at Spa was one of the hardest-fought ones, if not the most difficult for the Brazilian on Belgian soil. Ayrton held on to the lead for 14 laps, until he made a pit-stop and ended up being overtaken by Nigel Mansell’s Williams – his main rival in the fight for that season’s title. Before that, Alain Prost had already retired due to issues with his Ferrari’s engine.
Senna took advantage of an electric problem suffered by Mansell and climbed one spot in the field, but he was still behind Jean Alesi, who had taken the lead on lap 22 with his Ferrari. Senna took off after the Frenchman, but his gearbox was misbehaving. The Brazilian couldn’t switch gears properly, and he almost had to stop his McLaren.
Luckily for Senna, Alesi faced issues with his Ferrari’s engine, just like Prost, and lost a race that was all but won. Senna struggled to carry his McLaren across the finish line, and the second place went to his teammate, Gerhard Berger. The Austrian had taken that spot three laps away from the end of the race, when Andrea De Cesaris excellent performance came to an end after his Jordan’s engine gave out.
1991 Japanese GP
For the fifth year in a row, the Formula One World title would be decided at Suzuka, and Senna’s main adversary, this time, Was Briton Nigel Mansell. The Brazilian arrived in Japan 16 points ahead of his rival. That meant he could even lose the race to the Briton and still become a three-time champion, even before the Austrian GP (the last one in the calendar).
He clinched the title, however, before the ninth lap was over: while Gerhard Berger took off in the lead, Senna held Mansell back in the fight for second place. Then, the “Lion” tried to overtake, but ended up overshooting a corner and getting stuck in the gravel trap. It was the end of the Briton’s aspirations to the title
Right after that, Senna pushed hard and overtook Berger, who was in the lead with the other McLaren. But, in the final few meters, the Brazilian decided to let his friend have the win, as Ayrton himself stated at the time.
“That was when I thought: ‘’Finally, I can race the way I like it, stepping on it and to win.’ All I had been thinking about was the title. That was my chance to have some fun. There’s no better way to win a world title: by winning the GP, like I had done in 1988, in Japan. So, that’s what I was about to do, when [Ron] Dennis called me on the radio. I asked him to repeat the message, but once again I was unable to hear it. So, I decided to slow down and let Berger pass through”, said Senna, wrapping up that year with his third world title.