Remembering Schumacher’s first F1 triumph at Spa

The 1992 Belgian Grand Prix was a a gripping race driven in slippery conditions. Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher took centre stage against the seemingly invincible Williams FW14B piloted by Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese.

Mansell, fresh from being crowned champion at the previous race in Budapest, looked hungry for more race wins. After qualifying, yet another Mansell runaway victory looked on the cards, with Mansell claiming pole by a resounding 2.1 seconds from Senna, with Schumacher a further half second back in third. But come race day, rain would mix the cards, and after an amazing drive by Senna in trying to tame the difficult track on slicks ended in disappointment, it was the rising superstar Schumacher who, on the anniversary of his stunning arrival in F1 at Spa with Jordan, gauged the conditions perfectly and timed his stops just right to record a famous maiden win.

Rain drops were just starting to fall prior to the start, but the cars lined up on the grid on slicks. Berger was out at the start, his clutch giving up on the line. At the start Senna got the jump on Mansell, braking late on the outside into La Source to take the lead, with Patrese and Alesi getting by Schumacher. Hakkinen was trying to pressure Schumacher on the Kemmel straight, but Schumacher pulled out of Alesi’s slipstream and dived past the Ferrari, taking back 3rd place on the inside into Les Combes. Mansell was all over the back of Senna, and with the track starting to get slippy, Senna couldn’t hold Mansell at bay long. On lap 2 Mansell was past, diving inside Senna at Blanchimont, with Patrese following through into second at the bus stop chicane. Williams order was restored, but rain was getting heavier, and the cars were soon in to pit for wet tyres. Mansell came in first at the end of lap 2 along with Alesi, who emerged ahead of Mansell, with Schumacher coming in at the end of lap 3, Brundle at the end of lap 4 and Patrese coming in from the lead at the end of lap 5, leaving Senna as the only front runner staying out on slicks.

Schumacher had emerged ahead of Mansell, but the Williams was quickly past. Mansell had a scare when he made contact with Alesi at La Source, the Ferrari sliding wide into Mansell as the Williams had a look to pass around the outside. Alesi was out, and Patrese slipped past Mansell, but otherwise Mansell continued unscathed. Schumacher meanwhile was sitting on Mansell’s tail ready to pounce, and Martin Brundle in the second Benetton followed his team mate, having made up good ground after starting 9th. Mansell was soon back ahead of Patrese though, and the quartet of Williams and Benetton’s set off after Senna. Senna, feeling he needing to gamble to try and gain an advantage over the dominant Williams, had opted to stay out in slicks. Despite wonderful driving in the poor conditions, it was a gamble that would not pay off, as the rain continued to fall, and the others hauled him in, with Mansell getting by on lap 11.

One by one the other leaders passed Senna over the following laps despite some amazing defensive driving on slicks from the Brazilian legend, with Senna eventually forced to admit defeat and pit for wets at the end of lap 13, his valiant effort coming to nothing and his late switch to wets dropping him well down the order, emerging in 13th place, his hopes for victory dashed. The race settled into a steady phase on the wet tyres, with Mansell pulling clear of Patrese, and Schumacher and Brundle closing up to the second Williams.

A dry line eventually began to emerge, and Senna was back for slicks at the end of lap 27, trying to make up for lost time, but providing valuable information for the other drivers. On lap 29 Schumacher ran wide off the track, allowing his team mate Martin Brundle to scamper past into third. This prompted Schumacher to come in to change tyres at the end of the lap, and he went for slicks. The timing was just right, and Schumacher started to make up time on his rivals in the still tricky conditions. Brundle followed Schumacher in switching to dry tyres the next lap, but a bad stop cost him time, with Patrese in the next lap around and Mansell a lap later.

As is often the case the team with the dominant car had played it safe in the changing conditions, and been too slow to come in for slicks. By the time the stops were complete and the leaders were all on slicks, Schumacher was in front with a healthy 6 second lead from Mansell, followed by Patrese and Brundle. Mansell set about cutting into the gap to the Benetton, initially pulling the gap back and looking to set up yet another Williams win, but his engine started to develop trouble, holding him back and forcing him to settle for second place.

The race would end in that order, with Senna having dragged his way back up to fifth place by the end of the race, hardly a fitting reward for such a daring drive. But the day belonged to the newest Grand Prix winner, the young Michael Schumacher, who at 23 years of age had well and truly announced his arrival as the new generation of superstar in F1 with a superb drive to victory.

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