The 1991 Australian Grand Prix had to be abandoned after just 14 laps as torrential rain engulfed the street circuit. With a running time of less than 25 minutes, the race is the shortest grand prix ever.
Ayrton Senna had already clinched his third world title at the previous race in Japan, but McLaren were only 11 points clear of Williams in the constructors’ championship when they arrived in Adelaide. Ferrari test driver Gianni Morbidelli was elevated from Minardi to Ferrari as Alain Prost was sacked for making “too many critical comments outside the team,” according to Ferrari boss Claudio Lombardi (Prost famously described the car’s handling as “worse than a truck”).
It had been damp during qualifying when Senna and team-mate Gerhard Berger claimed the front row ahead of Williams drivers Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese. Benetton had row three with Nelson Piquet and Michael Schumacher and Ferrari claimed row four with Jean Alesi and Morbidelli.
Back on row 10, Ligier’s Thierry Bousten must have fancied his chances when the weather worsened just before the start: two years earlier, he had won in similar conditions. “It was totally crazy,” remembers the Belgian. “We shouldn’t have raced. It was only because we were lucky that there were not more accidents.”
Roland Bruynesrade was the official starter. “It was a difficult decision to start,” he admits, “but it wasn’t raining so much early on.” Most drivers felt it was their duty to race, but Senna was wary and warned the starter that he would signal him if things got too dangerous.
The Brazilian led away from Berger with Mansell hot on their heels, but Patrese soon dropped behind the two Benettons and Ferraris. Mansell pushed past Berger on lap three, but the other drivers seemed happy just to survive.
The rain intensified. The stars of 1989 – fastest lap-setter Satoru Nakajima and winner Boutsen – collided. Then Schumacher, Alesi and Nicola Larini all tangled. Pierluigi Martini spun off. At the start of lap 15, Mansell’s Williams hit a patch of water and snapped sideways into the wall.
Seeing Senna’s warnings, Bruynesrade decided to intervene. “That was the reason we stopped the race. At the time we didn’t have a safety car and it started to rain more and more.”
The cars waited on the grid for a restart, but it never came. “Five times we put out 10 minutes red, which would be followed by 10 minutes green if it was safe to restart, but each time it was still raining. So I waved the red and ended the race.”
Senna was first and, with the order being taken from the end of 14 laps instead of 15, Mansell – already on his way to the airport – was second and Berger, who had also spun off, was third. Piquet had taken the flag second, but was classified fourth ahead of Patrese who had been overtaken by Morbidelli. “I was third across the line,” says Morbidelli, “but I gained just half a point for sixth. At least I can tell my nephews that one day I race for Ferrari.”
So ended the final grand prix of 1991 – and half an hour later, the sun came out.