by Nigel Roebuck
Autosport - 20 June 1991
Some race, wasn't it? I much enjoyed the Mexican Grand Prix, not least because I wasn't in Mexico. Having given up for good all Latin American trips, I watched the race, as I did Interlagos, on TV.
For all my dislike of Mexico City, however, I would not dispute that its Rodriguez circuit is among the best on this earth. Peraltada, the unending right-hander at the end of the lap, is an awesome place to watch a Grand Prix car, and it leads into a pit straight long and wide enough for cars to fan out under braking for the right-hander at the end of it. With Zandvoort and its wonderful Tarzan gone, this has become the overtaking spot of the season.
I always find it slightly odd to miss a Grand Prix, and to see the newspapers I normally miss over a race weekend. From the 'phone lines, Ceefax and so on, there seemed to be two major stories from Friday. First, Ayrton Senna had crashed while going for the pole; second, the man who had the pole - Riccardo Patrese - was a doubtful starter in the race, due to something politely described as 'stomach cramps'.
The following morning these were covered in some detail - but only by some of the papers. Doubtless, deadlines played their part in this, for Senna's accident came at the end of a session already delayed, but still I was bewildered that some chose to major on the suggestion that Renault was keen to see Alain Prost in a Williams next year. Nigel Mansell was invited to respond, and he seems to have done so with some vigour, one journal quoting him as saying that Prost had already had him removed from Ferrari.
I wasn't there to hear this, of course. But I was at the Ferrari motorhome immediately after last year's British Grand Prix when Nigel announced that he was retiring from racing, that he bore no animosity towards anyone, and that he would help Alain to win the championship in any way he could. On Saturday morning I played back the tape again to reassure myself I hadn't imagined it. I hadn't.
It is actually quite an education, for one so closeted in this curious little world of Formula 1, to skip a race, and to watch news of it breaking at home. And after last weekend I found myself feeling very sorry for Mansell, sympathising for a man looked to for 'the story' at every Grand Prix. Whatever the circumstances of his day, rare is the headline which spotlights one of his fellows. And it must be at least as wearisome for him as it is for us. I was reminded rather of the Cup Final, when one began to believe it was Nottingham Forest against Paul Gascoigne.
Deadlines vary, of course, and so, obviously, do the demands of sports editors, who presumably have different ideas about what sells papers. On Saturday what I wanted was to know about Senna's accident. Only two papers led with Ayrton and his escape, however, and I was the more amazed when I saw the extent of the shunt on the TV news.
Anyway, thankfully Senna was intact, and ready to run the next day. And by Sunday, too, Patrese was able to go out of reach of a bathroom with confidence again. Starting from pole position, he was down to fourth by the first corner, and looking a little hesitant, but this was purely temporary. He and Mansell came close to a repeat of their Phoenix Two-step, but avoided contact, after which Riccardo motored away, while Nigel slowed with overheating.
Even from my vantage point, several thousand miles away, the Williams-Renaults looked a class apart on Sunday. We did not see much of Patrese, for he was long gone, but the cameras understandably lingered a while on Mansell and Senna. And I was intrigued to note that Nigel, even with his soaring temperatures taking their toll of his horsepower, was able to keep Ayrton back - just! - on the long pit straight. Chances were, I supposed, that the Williams was trimmed out more than the McLaren, but even so I remembered Patrese's raving away about the top-end power Renault had found since last season.
Once they had enriched the mixture in Mansell's engine, the overheating problem disappeared, and in the late stages he really went for it, lapping at qualifying speeds, and all but catching his team mate. It was Nigel at his absolute best, a Mansell story of the most positive kind.
Senna was impressive in his unaccustomed adversity, the McLaren clearly not a match for the Williams at present, and Ayrton himself feeling less than brand new. His battle with Mansell was more mannered by far than we would have expected at one time.
And...de Cesaris. Members of his fan club have castigated me, and some of my colleagues, for uncharitable observations about Andrea's excesses in the past, and I make no apology for them now. I believed the red-and-white wallet kept him in Formula 1 - and thereby kept out others who better deserved his drives. But stay in he did, and Eddie Jordan and Ian Phillips seem to have found a way to harness commonsense to the speed that was always there. Andrea drove beautifully in Montreal, and again on Sunday in Mexico. Eddie's team is making large sections of the paddock look complacent, not to say foolish.
Above all, Patrese's form this year delights me, for it is always pleasing to see good things going the way of an old-fashioned racer. As well as that, he very obviously takes pleasure from his successes, making it easy for us to share in them. Nothing seems to sidetrack Riccardo, which perhaps explains his tranquil manner, his grip on reality. Sotto voce...it seems to work well for him.
© Autosport magazine - Reproduced with permission