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.
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.
|1. Riccardo Patrese 1’15.476
|2. Nigel Mansell 1’15.643
|3. Ayrton Senna 1’16.267
|4. Michael Schumacher 1’16.524
|5. Gerhard Berger 1’17.277
|6. Martin Brundle 1’18.148
|7. Michele Alboreto 1’18.604
|8. Thierry Boutsen 1’18.616
|9. Jean Alesi 1’18.665
|10. Ivan Capelli 1’18.765
|11. Erik Comas 1’18.902
|12. Gabriele Tarquini 1’19.123
|13. Johnny Herbert 1’19.143
|14. Aguri Suzuki 1’19.200
|15. Bertrand Gachot 1’19.365
|16. Mika Hakkinen 1’19.587
|17. Paul Belmondo 1’19.626
|18. Eric van de Poele 1’19.776
|19. Andrea de Cesaris 1’19.867
|20. Ukyo Katayama 1’19.990
|21. Mauricio Gugelmin 1’20.023
|22. Olivier Grouillard 1’20.063
|23. Karl Wendlinger 1’20.315
|24. Stefano Modena 1’20.707
|25. 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.
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.
|Andrea de Cesaris
|Eric van de Poele
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.
Grand Prix flashback
- Schumacher seals record-breaking 10th constructors championship for Ferrari
- Strategic superiority clinches Schumacher’s first Ferrari title
- Disaster for Hakkinen brings title within Schumacher’s grasp
- Schumacher turns the tide against McLaren on tragic day at Monza
- Hakkinen stuns Schumacher with three-wide pass for fourth win