Mansell finally ends his wait for the title

1992 Hungarian Grand Prix flashback

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Nigel Mansell’s long journey to championship success finally reached its end 20 years ago today.

Mansell had dominated the 1992 championship in his Williams-Renault FW14B. By finishing second in the Hungarian Grand Prix he won the world championship at an earlier point in the season than any driver in F1 history.

But even as Mansell celebrated his crown the machinations that would see him leave the sport without defending his title had already begun.

Fuel row

Mansell went into the 11th race of the 1992 season on the back of an unprecedented streak of success. He had begun the year with five consecutive victories – a new record – and arrived at the Hungaroring having completed a further hat-trick of wins at Magny-Cours, Silverstone and Hockenheim.

He led team mate Riccardo Patrese in the championship by 46 points and victory in Hungary would seal the title.

Mansell had already equalled Ayrton Senna’s record for most wins in a season. Senna looked certain to lose his crown, but McLaren were not yet ready to throw in the towel. They arrived in Hungary with a new traction control system, which Senna ran for the first time in the warm-up on Sunday.

But Williams remained the team to beat. Then as now, Adrian Newey was at the cutting edge of car design and the FW14B he masterminded with Patrick Head gave them a decisive edge, much as Red Bull’s cars have recently.

Continuing the parallels with today, the FIA were making every effort to rein them in. Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend a storm had blown up over the use of exotic mixtures in racing fuels.

The FIA tried, with some difficulty, to limit teams to using fuels that could be purchased from petrol stations. This weighed on Mansell’s mind as the decisive weekend approached. Testing revealed his Williams would likely see a drop in horsepower, but paddock gossip suggested other teams were not as badly affected.

But sheer engine power has never mattered as much at the Hungaroring as downforce and traction, and the active suspension Williams FW14B had that in spades. It was an advantage Mansell tended to give too little credit to.

F1’s last pre-qualifying session

With 31 cars entered for the race a pre-qualifying session was held before practice began to whittle the entry down to 30. This involved sending five of the lowest-ranked entries onto the track on Friday morning and eliminating the slowest.

However, not for the first time in 1992, the lamentable Andrea Moda team made a mockery of the session by refusing to give one of their drivers a chance to make the cut.

Perry McCarthy (later The Stig on BBC’s Top Gear) had already suffered the indignity of being sent out for his pre-qualifying effort at his home race at Silverstone on a dry track using old wet-weather tyres. In Hungary his patience finally snapped after being let out of the pits for the first time with 50 seconds remaining – clearly not enough time to get a lap in.

A furious McCarthy gave team boss Andrea Sasseti a verbal dressing-down on his return to the pits. But he regretted it when Arrows team boss Jackie Oliver stopped by later to invite McCarthy to test for them, providing he could gain Sasseti’s permission. Unsurprisingly, it was not forthcoming.

The FIA warned Andrea Moda to make a genuine effort at pre-qualifying both cars in future. But the collapse of the Brabham team following the race meant there would be no more pre-qualifying sessions.

And, after the bailiffs turned up during the next race at Spa-Francorchamps, there would be no more Andrea Moda either.

1992 Hungarian Grand Prix grid

Riccardo Patrese beat an out-of-sorts Mansell to pole position – an unusual development in a season where Mansell had typically beaten his team mate by over a second on Saturday.

A series of niggling problem dogged Mansell in the build-up to the races. He also had a dramatic moment when he caught the slow Jordan of Stefano Modena on a fast lap and turned off the circuit at speed (see video).

Michael Schumacher split the McLarens for fourth after Gerhard Berger had a high-speed spin late in qualifying. The flailing Brabham team trimmed their entry to a single car and Damon Hill put it 25th on the grid.

Alessandro Zanardi’s sixth appearance at an F1 race weekend did not end well. Substituting for the injured Christian Fittipaldi at Minardi, he spun and was given a push by the marshals in the second qualifying session on Saturday, for which he had all his times deleted. His fastest time from Friday qualifying was not quick enough for him to make the cut.

Pierluigi Martini lined up last on the grid for Dallara once the team had corrected an unusual fault with his gearbox – it had been fitted with two third gears.

Row 11. Riccardo Patrese 1’15.476
2. Nigel Mansell 1’15.643
Row 23. Ayrton Senna 1’16.267
4. Michael Schumacher 1’16.524
Row 35. Gerhard Berger 1’17.277
6. Martin Brundle 1’18.148
Row 47. Michele Alboreto 1’18.604
8. Thierry Boutsen 1’18.616
Row 59. Jean Alesi 1’18.665
10. Ivan Capelli 1’18.765
Row 611. Erik Comas 1’18.902
12. Gabriele Tarquini 1’19.123
Row 713. Johnny Herbert 1’19.143
14. Aguri Suzuki 1’19.200
Row 815. Bertrand Gachot 1’19.365
16. Mika Hakkinen 1’19.587
Row 917. Paul Belmondo 1’19.626
18. Eric van de Poele 1’19.776
Row 1019. Andrea de Cesaris 1’19.867
20. Ukyo Katayama 1’19.990
Row 1121. Mauricio Gugelmin 1’20.023
22. Olivier Grouillard 1’20.063
Row 1223. Karl Wendlinger 1’20.315
24. Stefano Modena 1’20.707
Row 1325. Damon Hill 1’20.781
26. Pierluigi Martini 1’20.988

Did not qualify
Gianni Morbidelli, Minardi-Lamborghini – 1’21.246
JJ Lehto, Dallara-Ferrari – 1’21.288
Alessandro Zanardi, Minardi-Lamborghini – 1’21.756
Roberto Moreno, Andrea Moda-Judd – 1’22.286

Did not pre-qualify
Perry McCarthy, Andrea Moda-Judd – No time

Mansell slips back

Mansell had good reason to be concerned about starting off-line at the slippery Hungaroring. In the event he got off the line well and was even able to take a look down the inside of his team mate as he reached turn one. But as Mansell backed out of the move the McLarens pounced – Senna and Berger demoting him to fourth.

Schumacher briefly pressured Mansell for his position, but the Williams pulled away leaving the Benetton driver to fend off the attention of team mate Martin Brundle.

Mansell dived down the inside of Berger to claim third place on lap eight. Next he went after Senna, but the world champion covered the inside line at the first corner, obliging Mansell to back off.

Phantom safety car

Lap 14 was a busy one for the Hungarian marshals as five cars retired in a pair of incidents. First Bertrand Gachot and Aguri Suzuki tangled at the second corner. The pair interlocked with damaged suspension which gave Suzuki considerable difficulty pulling his car off the track.

Further around the lap Olivier Grouillard, Karl Wendlinger and Stefano Modena collided, leaving Modena’s heavily damaged Jordan in the middle of the track.

Race control prepared to send out the safety car, which at the time was a recent addition to Grand Prix racing. The procedure was not as well-drilled as today, and ended up with the ‘SC’ boards being briefly shown but no pace car appearing on the circuit. Unfortunately for Patrese he had already backed off before the boards were withdrawn, costing him considerable time.

Mansell pressured Senna hard for second place until they came across the lapped Martini. He held up Mansell badly and was handed a ten-second stop-go penalty – another recent innovation – for his trouble.

Benetton battle

Meanwhile Mika Hakkinen had made superb progress in his Lotus. He passed Gachot and the Ferrari of Ivan Capelli and arrived on the tail of the Benettons.

The yellow cars were embroiled in a race-long battle which had begun when Schumacher ran wide early in the race and turned sharply back onto the racing line, squeezing Brundle off the track.

Now Hakkinen split the pair of them, passing Brundle before dropping back behind again. Brundle then took Schumacher only to also be re-passed by his team mate later on.

Mansell closed back on Senna but made a mistake at the penultimate corner, allowing Berger past again. But this time the backmarkers worked in Mansell’s favour – while Berger was delayed by traffic, Mansell got back down the inside.

The Williamses hit trouble

Freed of Berger, Mansell began closing in on Senna again – and now the battle was for the lead. Patrese had spun on lap 39, resuming in seventh place behind Hakkinen and the Benettons.

This changed the picture in the championship – with Mansell set to claim six points for second and Patrese not scoring, the title would be Mansell’s. His position was further strengthened when Patrese ducked into the pits on lap 56, the smoke from the back of his car signalling a rare Renault engine failure.

But just five laps later Mansell headed for the pits too. He had fallen over 20 seconds behind Senna and the team suspected a tyre problem – hanging out a pit board bearing the message “puncture?”.

It had taken a while for Mansell to realise why he was losing ground to Senna. “The trouble with the active ride is it compensates if there’s a puncture. So if the rear tyre’s going down it just jacks itself up.”

“We got a warning light in the cockpit but because that malfunctioned in Germany we taped it over – so this time it was working but we couldn’t see it!”

Being forced to pit was a considerable disadvantage in a race that was expected to run without pit stops. All the teams were using Goodyear tyres which were considerably more conservative than today’s Pirellis.

Mansell clinches the title

Mansell returned to the track in sixth place with 16 laps to go. Senna now enjoyed a 30-second lead over his team mate – more than enough to make a precautionary pit stop for fresh tyres to cure a vibration he had become increasingly concerned about.

A spot of luck handed Mansell his first position after his pit stop. The scrapping Benettons had caught Berger – on lap 63 Schumacher had to brake hard to avoid the McLaren. Brundle clipped the back of his team mate’s car which had disastrous consequences when Schumacher reached the fastest point on the circuit: his rear wing flew off, sending him spinning off the circuit, fortunately without damage or injury.

Mansell made light work of the cars ahead, taking Herbert, Brundle and Berger one by one at the first corner. By lap 69 he was back into second place and on his way to the world championship.

Brundle continued to throw everything he had at Berger but he needed to be more wary of Hakkinen. The Lotus driver got alongside him on the run to turn one on lap 73 and claimed an excellent fourth place.

After Senna crossed the line there was a 40-second wait for the driver who succeeded him as world champion. Mansell had spent much of 1992 leading races from the front, but in Hungary he won the title with a performance more akin to his battling recovery drives.

“It’s the most astonishing feeling for me, maybe even more so than for other people who’ve won it without being runner-up three times,” he said afterwards. “When you get as close as me and you don’t crack it you start to think are you ever going to crack it.”

1992 Hungarian Grand Prix result

Brundle went off on the final lap before claiming fifth place. His team mate’s demise promoted Capelli to sixth place for his second points finish of the year.

This was a badly-needed result for Capelli in Ferrari’s 500th world championship race. But it was too late to save his place at the team, who had already announced he was being dropped for the following season.

It was a disastrous weekend for the Ligier team, whose drivers were out within a few seconds of the start. Erik Comas spun at the first corner and was collected by 1990 race-winner Thierry Boutsen. Lotus’s Johnny Herbert was also eliminated in the melee.

The last classified runner was Hill, who crossed the line four laps down in 11th. After 30 years and 394 races, the Brabham team had finished its last Grand Prix.

11Ayrton SennaMcLaren-Honda77
25Nigel MansellWilliams-Renault7740.139
32Gerhard BergerMcLaren-Honda7750.782
411Mika HakkinenLotus-Ford7754.313
520Martin BrundleBenetton-Ford7757.498
628Ivan CapelliFerrari761 lap
79Michele AlboretoFootwork-Mugen-Honda752 laps
84Andrea de CesarisTyrrell-Ilmor752 laps
917Paul BelmondoMarch-Ilmor743 laps
1033Mauricio GugelminJordan-Yamaha734 laps
118Damon HillBrabham-Judd734 laps
Not classified
19Michael SchumacherBenetton-Ford63Broken wing
6Riccardo PatreseWilliams-Renault55Engine
22Pierluigi MartiniDallara-Ferrari40Gearbox
30Ukyo KatayamaVenturi-Lamborghini35Engine
27Jean AlesiFerrari14Halfshaft
29Bertrand GachotVenturi-Lamborghini13Broken wing
10Aguri SuzukiFootwork-Mugen-Honda13Accident
3Olivier GrouillardTyrrell-Ilmor13Accident
16Karl WendlingerMarch-Ilmor13Accident
32Stefano ModenaJordan-Yamaha13Accident
14Eric van de PoeleFondmetal-Ford2Accident
25Thierry BoutsenLigier-Renault0Accident
26Erik ComasLigier-Renault0Accident
15Gabriele TarquiniFondmetal-Ford0Accident
12Johnny HerbertLotus-Ford0Accident

Mansell and Williams part ways

Mansell’s contract for 1993 was a major talking point on the weekend he became world champion. There was intense speculation that Williams, under pressure from engine suppliers Renault, had already agreed terms for Alain Prost to drive for them. These rumours would soon prove to be true.

During the Hungarian race weekend Mansell believed he’d agreed terms with Frank Williams to remain at the team alongside Prost in 1993. But talks between him and Williams later broke down and he left F1 to race in IndyCar.

But that lay in the future. For now, Mansell had finally joined the ranks of the world champions. Senna, the outgoing champion, welcomed him on the podium with the words “Well done, Nigel. It’s such a good feeling, isn’t it?”

“Now you know why I’m such a bastard. I don’t ever want to lose this feeling or let anyone else experience it.”

Were you there?

Did you go to the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix? Do you remember watching this race? Share your memories in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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33 comments on “Mansell finally ends his wait for the title”

  1. Love the article and the Senna quote.

    I’m a bit of a broken record on this one but gosh those qualifying times were horrendous. Performance wise, cars really were worlds appart !

    1. @tango At this point the top three teams were well ahead but the rest were fairly close. Seventh to 26th were covered by 2.3 seconds – less than the 2.7 seconds covering first to sixth!

      1. Very true, I hadn’t gone that far. For my defense, I’d rather have it the other way round like nowadays ! (if only those cars weren’t bullet proof)

  2. Still a legend, he’s my hero !

  3. Mansell dived down the inside of Berger to claim third place on lap eight. Next he went after Senna, but the world champion covered the inside line at the first corner, obliging Mansell to back off.

    Strange, from the first-lap onboard from Senna it looks like Mansell overtakes Berger at the first corner of the second lap.

    1. @adrianmorse The video must’ve been edited. Mansell definitely didn’t get past Berger until later on, he dropped back quite a bit on the first lap.

  4. Now that I’ve stopped puzzling over the outfit being worn by the man waving the flag in that last photo…

    I’m currently reading The Mechanics Tale by Steve Matchett, in which he’s fairly critical of Mansell’s decision to leave F1 right after winning the world championship. I’d be interested to hear what those of you who were fans then thought about that decision at the time.

    (Matchett also writes about how Patrese left Williams for Benetton because he thought he was certain to lose his seat to Prost — only to see Mansell leave the team instead, so he probably would have been able to stay, after all! But he says Patrese was such a stand-up guy and man of his word that he didn’t even consider trying to back out of his deal with Benetton.)

    1. @aka_robyn And then got thrashed by Schumacher. Being a gentleman really didn’t pay off for him did it?

      1. Hmm, how do you think he would have fared against Prost at Williams?

        1. @aka_robyn I think even towards the end of 1992 Patrese was still well off Mansell’s pace in qualifying which says to me he never really got on top of his discomfort in the active suspension car. Assuming that would have continued with the FW15C I don’t think he would have shown up much better than Hill did. But I don’t really like hypotheticals like this.

    2. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      16th August 2012, 21:27

      @aka_robyn Not really about the topic, but talking about Williams and drivers who leave without farewells, Rubens might have cried when Maldonado won in Barcelona… “That could be me!!!!”

    3. @aka_robyn I was really disheartened to see Nigel leaving F1. I’d watched all 3 of his nearly years and 1992 was a great achievement for him. However, 1993 and the Indycar championship really was great entertainment and that was because of the hard charging Nigel Mansell. I clearly remember his domination at round 1, Surfers Paradise. Simply awesome display.

      So was he right to leave? Well he proved in his one off drives in 1994 that he was still up there, but back then you still needed a decent car / team so maybe yes he was right.
      Although McLaren, compared to their usual standards, had slipped, they still were a top team.
      Maybe that’s how McLaren tempted Nigel into that calamitous and quite awful 1995 season that he ended up walking away from.

      Personally I think he did the right thing. I only wish he had pulled off the Indy 500 too.

  5. A bit overated and was lucky to catch Williams at the right time….

    1. Overrated? Lucky? Says who? The man came from nothing, sold his house to pay for his racing and lived in a caravan, raced (and won) with a broken neck and a broken back, was one of the most exciting drivers to watch once he got his head down. Won in almost every car he ever drove, even old used up bangers. An ordinary bloke that had extraordinary self belief. He didn’t have any media training so was not exactly charismatic like Kimi perhaps (;)

      He then went on, in the same year to win the Champ Car Championship at his first attempt never having even driven an oval before. Had a huge accident which crushed all his back muscles and had a hole the size of a football in his back, but carried on racing despite medical advice and continued to win.

      That’s overrated? Lucky?

      1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
        16th August 2012, 21:31

        Not overrated of course NO!!! but that car FW14B was heaven on earth. It needed a great pilot to make it shine. Why, if not, he overshadowed Patrese in the same machinery? Looks like Newey’s creations always have “a bit overrated lucky guys” becoming champions ;P

  6. Keep these articles coming along Keith, quite fascinating how it educates those who were born into a later era of Motorsport (like myself) the Classic era, particularly comparisons between the former & modern era.

  7. Such a shame that a driver of Mansell’s calibre ended up winning the championship mainly because of the car… He sums it up in that quote

    “It’s the most astonishing feeling for me, maybe even more so than for other people who’ve won it without being runner-up three times… …When you get as close as me and you don’t crack it you start to think are you ever going to crack it.”

  8. Great article!

    It was an advantage Mansell tended to give too little credit to.

    Wasn’t that the nature of the drivers, though? Surely the past 10 years have given us a lot of drivers who can’t go anywhere without thanking the team, but before Schumacher/Hakkinen praised their teams with nearly every victory, I think not a lot of drivers did, from the footage I’ve seen and interviews I’ve read.

    Honestly, it’s a shame drivers like Mansell, Hill and Villeneuve get the label of ‘only’ having won their titles due to the car. It helped a lot, but especially a guy like Mansell deserves a much better image amongst younger, non-British fans.

  9. Woah, that was an eventful GP, thanks for the meticiously detailed report.

    I thought 1992 was quite dull due to Mansell constantly going away with the wins. But then again: Vettel came away with almost everything in 2011, yet it was an excellent year, I think it has everything bar a proper fight for the WDC.

  10. This race was from a few years before my F1 debut. I really enjoy watching races and footage from this time and it was great to read this article.
    It’s also interesting to hear names from the past that have reappeared again years later, such as Aguri Suzuki and of course Martin Brundle.
    In a way, it really doesn’t feel like a long time since it happened. 20 years sounds a long time, but when you look at the names of those who participated, the drivers and team staff, it’s not far away.
    Also really liked reading the Senna quote:)
    Thanks for another great article!

  11. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    16th August 2012, 21:24


    After 40 years and 394 races, the Brabham team had finished its last Grand Prix.

    I think you mean 30 years, being their first race as a team in 1962.

    1. Silly mistake, thankyou.

  12. i was 4 back then, so i dont remember anything =P

  13. I loved that man, as an English kid who immergrated to Australia in the 1980’s seeing, reading or hearing about British sportsmen was hard hard work. In those days you never any had any practice news let alone time and if you were lucky Ch 9 would show the top 6 qualifiers on the their sunday sports show, races were delayed at least an hour. There was very brief post race interviews so it was much harder to get to a feel for the drivers personalities other than the way they drove the car and that is was I loved about Our Nige his ball to the wall attitude!!!!!

    I was the race with my best friend who was a senna fan and it was great to be able to give him some needle after the near misses and Ayrtons titles. I will never forget the imortatle words of Murray ” and Mansell crosses the line and is WORLD CHAMPION!!!!!!! I had bought a bottle of champagne (my first one ever…..) and had a couple of glasses at 2am in the morning watching those few secs over and over and over!

    There is no doubt that he is a complicated man who rubbed some people up the wrong but paradoxically that might of been because he was not a complicated man but was in a complicated environment, if you know what I mean.

    As for leaving after winning the championship it was disappointing but sure there were lots of different reasons and back then lack of information made it hard to work out what went wrong, fundamentally after working with Prost at Ferrari I think he could not handle the thougt of working with him with a French manufacturer.

    Anyway I have nothing but fond memories of the guy and at my wedding my family asked him to send a telegram which he duly did and I was fortunate to meet him a few times and he was always very polite and generous with his time, photos etc.

    I always remember this anniversary so Keith thanks for doing up an article on it!!!!!

  14. Senna’s only win that year I think. pity we didn’t see Mansell and Prost in the 93 Williams. Strange that 2 drivers that won the drivers and constructors title easily were both replaced for 93. Also u can see by the qualifying times, the genius of Senna and Schumacher over their teammates

  15. If Bernie Ecclestone’s dream of gold-silver-bronze for F1 race results were in place these last 30 years or so, Mansell would have been a three-time WDC: 1986, 1987 & 1992.

    1. I’m not sure @mda72, if that’s is an argument for or against them.

      I only started watching F1 for real after this season, and thus haven’t properly warmed to Mansell as a legend, since it took a long time before I got to see footage of races, before youtube.

      But even then I thought it quite something that this man had fought so hard and had several near misses in a tough field before then finally having a car and field where everything got together for him to take that crown.

      Had it been a third title, it would have been different. He might have already been closer the year before, for one, and this year would be something like “and another title for Mansell, this time without a fight”.

      I think it is a great piece of F1 how this went, though I’d not begrudge him the other titles had the rules been different :-p

      1. Oh, and let me say that he was absolutely great in that year of Indy Car after, that got me to follow that sport too, whenever I could find races aired, and times when my parents wouldn’t be saying I, a teenager, should be sleeping (ie. really late night/early morning when they were sound asleep, or during the European day ;)

        That still got me looking at Villeneuve as if he should be more of a champion though having seen him win there, instead of the opinionated has-been he now seems!

      2. Not an argument either way, really. Though, as an avid watcher of F1 since 1985, I think assigning the 86 & 87 titles to Mansell, instead of to Prost & Piquet, would have been a more accurate reflection of what actually happened on the track those two seasons. In fact, the whole pantheon of F1 legends would ahve looked completely different to what it does now under “Olympic” championship rankings. No titles at all for Nelson Piquet, for example!

  16. You mentioned Renault’s insistence that Williams sign Alain Prost. Do you think this would be any different had Jean Alesi signed for Williams rather than Ferrari back in 1991?

  17. @keithcollantine, 31 cars and 7 different engines, so much technology being developed and finding its way to road cars.

    Is the current push to restrict development and cost really the way to attract new teams into the sport?

  18. That’s a great quote from Senna, at least he’s honest!

    That bit about one car being fitted with two third gears? Surely that has to go down as F1 engineering comedy gold with other such hits as Virgin failing to build a big enough fuel tank.

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