Ayrton Senna continued to try his hardest in the McLaren and demonstrate remarkable speed, but during this period the Williams-Renaults became very dominant, taking Nigel Mansell to the world championship in 1992 and Alain Prost in 1993. This period saw the departure of Alain Prost and the emergence of rising stars such as Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Jean Alesi, Damon Hill, Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine. The Benettons became increasingly competitive, especially with Michael Schumacher at the wheel, but the Ferraris fell from the front somewhat, while remaining rather unreliable.
The main question for my driver rating system here is, were the Williams drivers the best, or was Ayrton Senna still the best driver but compromised by a McLaren that was increasingly outclassed by the Williams? And how good was Michael Schumacher when he first arrived in F1? All will be revealed...
Driver ratings for 1991
The Top Ten for 1991
1. Ayrton Senna Ayrton was undoubtedly the class of the field this year, setting a season average rating of 8.63, the highest that I have ever given any driver over a season. Although his McLaren was increasingly outpaced by the Williams, he was able to make up some of the deficit with his relentless pace, and take full advantage of the inferior reliability of the Williams, especially its gearbox. His most remarkable performance was at his home race at Brazil, where he lost third and fifth gears and ended up in tremendous physical discomfort in his efforts to keep the car under control, and yet he still won the race. In the end, despite a valiant late season charge by Nigel Mansell, Ayrton proved too strong for him, and at Japan Nigel went off while pushing too hard to try and keep up with him. As in 1988 and 1989, he was also my Driver of the Day at 6 races out of the 16.
2. Nigel Mansell Nigel fought hard for the title this year but was undone by the unreliability of his Williams's gearbox and by Ayrton Senna's greater consistency, especially early in the season. As usual, he was superb at the British Grand Prix, taking a convincing victory. He was sometimes outpaced by a rejuvenated Riccardo Patrese early in the season, but secured the upper hand over him later in the season. He was in contention for the world title until the Japanese Grand Prix, when he went off trying too hard in chasing down Ayrton Senna. His rating for 1991 of 8.34 was comparable to his 1989 rating and he was Driver of the Day four times.
3. Alain Prost I don't think Alain quite had the speed that he did in the previous three seasons, but he wasn't far short, slipping by just a couple of tenths. The relatively slow and unreliable Ferrari may have been a contributory factor, Alain increasingly falling out of favour with the team and being sacked before the end of the season after calling his car a "truck". He generally had the upper hand over his promising team mate Jean Alesi, particularly in qualifying. However, he was unable to pull off any victories, with three 2nd places the best he could get out of his Ferrari. Alain's style wasn't exactly a good fit for the legend of the Ferrari #27, but his team mate Jean Alesi was to prove to be a very good fit for it in the following four seasons.
4. Riccardo Patrese Riccardo had a very strong season in 1991, particularly in the first half when at times he had the better of Nigel Mansell, particularly in qualifying. At his home race at Italy, after Nigel Mansell couldn't find a way by Ayrton Senna, Nigel let Riccardo Patrese have a go instead, and he succeeded and looked set to win his home GP before mechanical unreliability hit and caused him to spin off. In the second half of the season he was mostly outpaced by his team mate, perhaps a consequence of his number two driver status, or maybe he just couldn't keep up the level of form that he showed earlier. 8.00 was his highest season.
5. Gerhard Berger Gerhard's disappointing second half of 1990 continued into the early part of the 1991 season where he was generally about half a second per lap slower than his esteemed team mate Ayrton Senna. His form improved later on, and in the last half-dozen races he was quite often a match for Senna in the races, returning to the kind of pace that he showed in the late 1980s, but the first half of the season dragged his overall rating down.
6. Stefano Modena Another good find by Ken Tyrrell, in the first half of 1991 Stefano Modena was even more impressive than Jean Alesi had been the previous year. He ran a strong second at Monaco until his engine blew, and he finished second at Canada also. Indeed, my system has him ranked as the joint second best performing driver in the first half of the season. However, later in the season he became increasingly despondent and his performances became more inconsistent, though still with some impressive speed at times. He thrashed his team mate Satoru Nakajima (who in fairness was never really that good), by over a second per lap on average.
7. Michael Schumacher Michael Schumacher arrived at Jordan at Belgium and made waves by immediately outpacing Andrea de Cesaris. He then went to Benetton to replace Roberto Moreno, and immediately made Nelson Piquet look rather ordinary, regularly outpacing him and not making many mistakes along the way. A very promising new star.
8. Jean Alesi Jean Alesi's first year with Ferrari was tough as he was up against Alain Prost, but he did well, generally a few tenths slower than Prost in qualifying but often able to match him in the races. He was good for entertainment value this season, but with this came a scattering of silly mistakes through trying a bit too hard at times. He had a good shot at victory at the Belgian Grand Prix, only for his engine to fail on lap 30. Although Jean placed only 8th in my list for 1991, his overall season rating of 7.72 was slightly up on his 1990 rating.
9. Pierluigi Martini Another strong season from Pierluigi Martini, who ranked only 9th mainly because a few other drivers had stronger seasons in 1991 than in 1989 or 1990. His season rating of 7.66 was comparable to the previous two seasons. He had strong 4th place finishes at San Marino and Portugal and was consistently very quick, especially in qualifying, but he was still prone to silly mistakes, spinning out in several of the races. 10. Nelson Piquet Nelson's last season in F1 was OK, solid but unspectacular, and he had the upper hand over team mate Roberto Moreno, but struggled to keep up with his new team mate Michael Schumacher towards the end of the season.
1991's also rans
Lotus were well served by Johnny Herbert and Mika Hakkinen, two rookies who were compromised somewhat by a very slow car, even worse than in the previous couple of seasons. Mika got the team's only points, a 5th place at San Marino. Andrea de Cesaris had his strongest season so far, though still a bit off the pace, and Gianni Morbidelli's season was strong enough for him to get an opportunity to drive the Ferrari #27 after Alain Prost's sacking, proving to be not much slower than Jean Alesi. Martin Brundle had a decent season but not as close to the pace as in 1990, while Roberto Moreno did alright with his chance in the Benetton, but just didn't quite have enough pace to hold onto his place in a top team.
1991: a season to forget for...
Having lost his Williams drive to Nigel Mansell, Thierry Boutsen struggled in the Ligier, and his performances dropped quite a bit on the previous three years. And Pedro Chaves was so heavily compromised by his Coloni that I decided it was impossible to give him a rating.
Driver ratings for 1992
The Top Ten for 1992
1. Ayrton Senna On the race track he was well beaten by Nigel Mansell's Williams, but I still get the impression that he had more out-and-out pace than Nigel, and that he was compromised due to the massive superiority of the Williams. Ayrton had a great win at Monaco where he memorably kept Nigel Mansell's Williams behind him for the last three laps, and was unfortunate not to win at Canada, denied by mechanical failure. He also picked up a fine win at Hungary, keeping Mansell behind him, though helped by Riccardo Patrese spinning out of contention while leading.
2. Nigel Mansell I have 1992 down as Nigel's strongest season performance wise as well as the one where he ran away with the championship, with a rating of 8.41, though still a bit short of Ayrton Senna's excellence. Unlike in 1991, he had the upper hand over Riccardo Patrese throughout the season, and again he was particularly dominant at his home race at Britain.
3. Jean Alesi The Ferraris were even worse in 1992 than they were in 1991, but that didn't stop Jean Alesi from frequently making it go faster than it should have done, especially when the track was wet. His strongest all-round performance was in the wet at Spain where he finished a fine 3rd, and he was also 3rd at Canada, and ran very well at Monaco, keeping Michael Schumacher's Benetton behind him in an exciting duel. Perhaps the most eye-catching performance was the one at France where he was very close to the pace of the Williams while on slicks on a wet track, displaying his superb car control, albeit marred by stalling in the pitlane. Frustration may have set in to some extent in the second half of the season, when he had several off days, notably at Portugal. At 8.00, I rate this as Jean's strongest season.
4. Michael Schumacher Michael Schumacher continued to look very impressive in the Benetton, generally beating his team mate Martin Brundle, especially in qualifying. He demonstrated great wet weather ability in coming home second at Spain and thoroughly deserved his maiden victory at Belgium in typically changeable conditions. He was also outstanding at Australia, charging down Gerhard Berger's leading McLaren and setting a succession of fastest laps, though it wasn't quite enough. However, understandably given his lack of experience, there were occasional misjudgements, notably at France where he took out Ayrton Senna.
5. Gerhard Berger Gerhard finished just one point short of Ayrton Senna in the drivers' championship this year, but a close look reveals that overall he was still three or four tenths of a second per lap slower than Senna. He was a worthy winner at Canada, outpaced only by Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell, and he managed to get the better of Ayrton at the wet Spanish Grand Prix. Many eyebrows were raised when he gave up his secure position at McLaren to join Jean Alesi at Ferrari for 1993. At 7.91 his season rating for 1992 was the same as in 1991, but this time the performance gap to Ayrton Senna was consistent for much of the season.
6. Riccardo Patrese With six second places and a win, Riccardo had statistically his strongest season in F1, but performance wise it was disappointing compared with 1991, when in the early part of the season he quite often had the better of Nigel Mansell. In 1992 he was rarely able to match Nigel. That said, his overall pace was within half a second of Nigel Mansell's and his overall season rating of 7.56 was quite good by most standards, just somewhat down on his strong showings in 1991. He could and should have won on merit at Hungary, but spun off while leading the race. At Japan he won but only because Nigel Mansell decided to let him, and then broke down. He also should have won at his home race at Italy after Nigel Mansell decided to let him win there too, but both Williamses then suffered mechanical problems.
7.(=) Mika Hakkinen Mika again served the Lotus team well this year, improving on his already promising 1991 season. In the first half of the season he was slightly outpaced by team mate Johnny Herbert, but he gained the upper hand later in the season, often showing impressive pace, and he was unlucky not to finish 4th at Japan. He finished in the points six times this season despite his Lotus not being especially competitive.
7.(=) Martin Brundle Martin appeared short of confidence early in the season and struggled at the first four races, but after that he seemed to settle into being in a top team and although he was well beaten by Michael Schumacher in qualifying, he was often able to match him in the races, and occasionally got the better of him, notably at Canada where mechanical failure denied him a good shot at victory. He also had an exciting duel with Ayrton Senna at Britain, and at Belgium he had a chance of victory but didn't choose the right moment to pit for slicks (unlike team mate Schumacher, who went on to win the race). Martin lost his place at Benetton for 1993, partly because his bosses didn't realise just how good Michael Schumacher was, and so Martin suffered by comparison. At 7.47, this was Martin Brundle's strongest season. 9. Johnny Herbert Johnny had a lot of bad luck this season, often being taken out early on in races through other drivers' mistakes. He had a slight edge over Mika Hakkinen early in the season, as he had done in 1991, but later in the season Mika started to show very impressive pace and got the upper hand, and Johnny, though he too improved as the season went on, wasn't able to keep up. But his performances were much better than his two 6th places suggested, and averaged over the season as a whole there was very little in it between him and Mika Hakkinen. 10. Michele Alboreto For whatever reasons, after three years of underperformance, Michele had a much stronger 1992 season in the Footwork. From Monaco through to Italy he had a remarkable run of 6 seventh places (i.e. just out of the points) in 8 races, but he did also score on four occasions and he thrashed his team mate Aguri Suzuki. At 7.22 this is his strongest season out of the ones that I have covered, but I strongly suspect that he had better seasons than this earlier in the 1980s, notably 1985 when he mounted a serious world championship challenge at one stage. However, "money talks" (as they say), and even though he was much the stronger of the two Footwork drivers this season, Aguri Suzuki, due to his connections with Honda, stayed on for 1993 and Michele Alboreto got booted out.
1992's also rans
Pierluigi Martini hoped for better results in the Dallara team than he had achieved at Minardi, but once again his car was a fair way off the pace. In the first half of 1992 he was again very quick, but his pace dropped later in the season. Team mate JJ Lehto was outpaced early in the season, but had the edge in the second half of the season, so not a bad effort. Andrea de Cesaris had a strong-ish season in the Tyrrell, taking 8 points in total. Mauricio Gugelmin also did well considering how dreadful his Jordan was this year. Christian Fittipaldi showed promise, with a superb drive to 6th at Japan, but his performances were held back by injuries, and Roberto Moreno deserves credit for somehow getting the dreadful Andrea Moda through qualifying at Monaco.
1992 - a season to forget for...
On the subject of the Andrea Moda, Perry McCarthy was so compromised by his car that I decided I couldn't rate him. As someone who would love to see some women make it into Formula One, I was reluctant to give Giovanna Amati three zero ratings, but she was so far off the pace (3 to 5 seconds slower than Eric van der Poele, who himself wasn't particularly fast) that I couldn't justify any other rating. Andrea Chiesa and Paul Belmondo also looked out of their depth.
It was a nightmare of a season for Ivan Capelli, who succumbed to "number two Ferrari driver syndrome", didn't get a fair chance and lost confidence. I don't think he was ever in Jean Alesi's class, but had he been given an equal chance, the gap between the two would probably have been around half a second per lap, rather than over a second. Still, even a half a second gap would almost certainly have been enough to see him be replaced by Gerhard Berger for 1993.
And Stefano Modena, who showed stunning speed early in the 1991 season, also had his career destroyed by the dreadful 1992 Jordan, and lost motivation, though he did perform well at the last two races. And it was another frustrating season for Thierry Boutsen in an uncompetitive Ligier. He had a chance of some serious points at Belgium due to his knowledge of the local track conditions, but he then spun off.
Driver ratings for 1993
My Top Ten
1. Ayrton Senna Ayrton was outstandingly brilliant for much of the first half of the season, achieving an average rating of 8.9. The highlight was in the wet at the European GP at Donington, when he dropped to fifth at the start but quickly made four overtaking moves to emerge in the lead by the end of the first lap. Aided by frequent wet races early in the season, Alain Prost's dislike of wet races and Damon Hill's inexperience, he gained an early lead in the drivers' championship. However, as Alain Prost started to make the superiority of his Williams count, Ayrton seemed to lose some motivation, fell a bit off the pace mid to late season and made quite a few errors. This changed at the Portuguese GP, with the arrival of the ultra-quick Mika Hakkinen, who succeeded in outqualifying him. This seemed to be the wake-up call that he needed, as he was brilliant again at the last three races. Despite the outstanding performances early and late in the season, the mid to late season slump in performances saw Ayrton's season average come out at "only" 8.50. Less impressive was his off-track behaviour at Japan, where he punched Eddie Irvine.
2. Michael Schumacher Michael had a rather iffy start to the season, but from the San Marino Grand Prix onwards he was superb, often putting his Benetton much closer to the front than it really should have been, and he made team mate Riccardo Patrese look very ordinary. He was in contention for victory at Belgium and he took a well deserved win at Portugal. He traded Driver of the Day awards with Ayrton Senna, with 7 each out of a possible 16.
3. Jean Alesi Jean Alesi continued to bring back memories of Gilles Villeneuve, charging hard and looking spectacular in the iconic Ferrari #27, but for most of the season the Ferraris were well off the pace. His strongest part of the season was Belgium/Italy/Portugal, taking a fine second at Italy (although there was more than a suspicion that he jumped the start there and got away with it because it was Ferrari's home track), and memorably leading for a while early on at Portugal. He had the upper hand over team mate Gerhard Berger for much of the season, although Gerhard may have been compromised to some extent by a couple of hefty accidents. Sporadic off days, notably at Japan (ironically a track where he usually went well) stopped him from topping his 1992 season, and he came out with a similar rating of 7.97.
4. Alain Prost Alain is notorious for only driving as fast as he needs to in order to win races, and in a dominant Williams and paired with the inexperienced Damon Hill, he wasn't really close to his limit this year and, as Nigel Mansell put it in his autobiography, at times he was "made to look very ordinary by Ayrton". After the frequent wet races early in the season, plus a below par performance by Alain at the European GP, the season became rather dull as he was able to pull out a large championship lead. Although I rated Alain Prost below Jean Alesi this year, I reckon that had Jean been in the other Williams, I think Alain had "pace in hand" in 1993 and that he would probably have driven closer to his limit and still won the drivers' championship
5. Mika Hakkinen Mika was sidelined in favour of Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti until the last three races, but when he came back into F1 he made great waves, outqualifying Ayrton Senna at Portugal and coming close to doing so again at Japan. He wasn't quite able to match Senna's pace over a race distance, but over one lap he proved to be comparably quick and Autosport magazine accurately described him as "undoubtedly a major star of the future".
6. Damon Hill As Damon hadn't really done much at Brabham in 1992, not much was necessarily expected of him, but considering that it was only his first full season in F1, he did very well. Although he was well beaten by Alain Prost in qualifying, he was often able to push him hard in the races, particularly during a spell from France through to Italy, a run which ended with three consecutive victories after being cruelly denied at the British and German GPs by badly timed mechanical unreliability.
7. Martin Brundle Martin was in a Ligier this year, but the 1993 Ligier turned out to be more competitive than the 1992 one, allowing him to achieve a strong run of points finishes mid to late season. Near the start of the season he was outpaced by Mark Blundell, but then he got the upper hand. His strongest performance was at the German Grand Prix where he could and should have been third but he was unfairly penalised for spinning down the escape road. His season was kickstarted by a strong 3rd place at San Marino, after that he had three 5th places and three 6ths.
8. Gerhard Berger A poor season for Gerhard by his high standards, who probably struggled to adapt to being in a much slower car than he was used to. He was generally outpaced by Jean Alesi, and he often tried too hard and had a few hefty accidents, which, as Murray Walker noted in commentary, probably contributed to his loss of pace this year. However, he was much quicker than Ivan Capelli had ever been in the Ferrari #28, and he was still quick enough to make it into my Top Ten this year.
9. Johnny Herbert Johnny put in some good performances this year and had the better of Alessandro Zanardi, but he was compromised again by a rather uncompetitive Lotus. A strong showing at the British GP had Murray Walker excitedly exclaiming that Lotus were back, but then they fell off the pace again. Three 4th places and a 5th were the highlights of his year.
10. Christian Fittipaldi Christian Fittipaldi showed flashes of speed in 1992, and in 1993 he was able to frequently perform at that level, thrashing Fabrizio Barbazza and, to the surprise of many, also having the edge over Pierluigi Martini later in the season. Martini wasn't quite as fast as he had been during 1989-1991, but still, it was a notable achievement to outpace him. He had two points finishes, a 4th and a 5th, though his season was generally most remembered for back flipping over the finish line at Italy after a collision with his team mate. He came close to getting into a punch-up with a livid Jean Alesi at the Hungarian GP when his suspension failed and he collided with the Ferrari as Jean was trying to lap him.
1993's also rans
Derek Warwick was understandably a bit rusty early in the 1993 season after two years out, but in the second half of the season he regained his old form and consistently had the better of team mate Aguri Suzuki. Despite this, it was his last season in F1. Rubens Barrichello put in some notably strong performances for a rookie, especially in the wet at the European GP, and thrashed his team mates until the last two races, when Eddie Irvine also proved to be quite fast. However, Rubens's pace was too inconsistent for him to make my Top Ten this year. Sauber were well served by Karl Wendlinger and JJ Lehto, although they had a habit of tripping over each other.
1993 - a season to forget for...
Ivan Capelli, after his dreadful 1992 season, had hardly any confidence left and was reluctantly sacked by Jordan after just two races. His replacement Thierry Boutsen also had a miserable season and couldn't get anywhere near Rubens Barrichello. It was also an awful season for Michele Alboreto who understandably seemed to lose motivation in a very uncompetitive Lola, after having had a good 1992 season.
In the top teams Michael Andretti had a nightmare of a season. He suffered badly from operational errors of the McLaren team which didn't help his chances, but he was also rarely able to get anywhere near Ayrton Senna and made a large number of errors of his own. As Autosport magazine put it, when Mika Hakkinen replaced him, "Mika's pace and confidence put Andretti's into sad perspective". Although Riccardo Patrese had some good results this season, notably a 3rd at Britain and a 2nd at Hungary, he was generally nowhere near Michael Schumacher's pace. I remember Murray Walker exclaiming, "Patrese's suddenly become good!" when he was just 0.08s off Schumacher in qualifying at Spain, but those moments were too few and far between, and he opted to retire at the end of the season.
Ayrton Senna was clearly the best driver during this period despite being beaten by the dominant Williams in 1992 and 1993. That said, Nigel Mansell wasn't far behind in 1991 and 1992, and he certainly made great use of his dominant Williams in 1992.
Jean Alesi's performances in 1992 were easily strong enough to suggest that had he joined Williams in 1991, and had his team mate been Riccardo Patrese rather than Nigel Mansell, he would probably have been world champion in 1992, but while on his day he was as fast as anybody, he couldn't match the consistency of either Senna or Mansell. Michael Schumacher established himself as the most promising newcomer by 1993, and Mika Hakkinen certainly made waves towards the end of the 1993 season. Gerhard Berger had a difficult season in the Ferrari in 1993, but in 1994 he was to firmly demonstrate that he wasn't yet "past it".