On this day…. 16th August 1992
Today is the day Nigel Mansell finally won the world driver’s championship at the Hungarian Grand Prix after finishing second in the race to Ayrton Senna’s McLaren.
Mansell came oh so close to winning the title in 1986, when he narrowly lost out to Alain Prost due to the now iconic exploding tyre at the final round in Adelaide. ‘Nige’ again missed out in 1987 to his more consistent team mate, Nelson Piquet. In 1990 the British racing driver announced his retirement following a disappointing season driving for Ferrari and looked set to never win an F1 drivers’ title.
However Nigel quickly changed his mind when an opportunity arose at Williams but yet again 1991 became another season best described as ‘what could have been’. Mansell was dogged this year with an unreliable car, though his championship hopes were finally dashed at the penaultimate race of the season in Japan, due to a spin rather than car failure.
Then in 1992 it all came together – almost too perfectly – for the British Bulldog. The combination of the dominant Williams-Renault FW14B and Mansell’s team mate – Riccardo Patrese – being in the twilight of his career made 1992 one of the most one sided title races in the history of Formula One, Mansell coasted to the F1 drivers’ title unchallenged, though this was somewhat fitting given the battles Nige had endured for much of the previous decade.
Nigel Mansell took all pole posiitons bar 2 and won 9 of the 16 races, allowing him to wrap up the title in August – after just 11 of 16 Grand Prix scheduled that year. Mansell won the opening 5 Grand Prix of the season and it was the Monaco Grand Prix which became the first to elude his demoinance. Yet that race in the principality delivered another F1 iconic moment, as Mansell – who was some 2 seconds a lap quicker than Senna – hounded the Brazilian for lap after lap. But it was all to no avail.
The next race was the Canadian GP and Mansell was beaten to pole by Senna. Following the ‘lights out’ Mansell harried Senna for 14 laps then next time around the Brummie lunged up Senna’s inside at the final chicane. It ended badly as Mansell hit the kerb, launching his car into the air and it landed nose first in the gravel trap before spinning back onto the track.
Next time out in France, normal service for the season was resumed as Mansell won the next three Grand Prix and set himself up with a chance to secure the title at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
In Hungary, Patrese took pole position, which became the only other occasion all season where Mansell failed to top the time sheets on Saturday.
Mansell needed to finish just second to clinch the drivers’ title and the enormity of the moment appeared to catch him out at the start. Senna and Berger passed Mansell leaving him in P4 until he retook Berger on lap 8. Yet as in Monaco, try as he could the combination of the tight Hungaroring and Senna’s defensive skills kept Mansell at bay for lap after lap.
The on lap 39 Ricardo Patrese spun off, losing the lead and rejoining in P7. This meant Mansell now just needed to hold station behind Senna to claim his F1 crown. Yet on lap 51 Mansell was forced to pit for fresh rubber and once again found himself down the order in P6, just ahead of his team mate.
Mansell quickly caught and passed Mika Hakkinen and set about chasing down and dispatching Martin Brundle. On lap 64 Mansell claimed another place as Michael Schumacher’s rear wing broke, spinning him out of the race. Senna was now over a minute ahead, leading the race, and McLaren decided to pit the Brazilian for a precautionary stop just as Mansell retook Gerhard Berger again.
Having returned to P2 Nigel Mansell now had a firm grip of the 1992 drivers’ title – and it was one he would not relinquish as he came home behind Senna for probably the sweetest P2 in the racing career of ‘Red Five’.
Mansell will always be overrated and he could only win the title once there no competition at all. He might have lined up against a F3000 grid with the FW14B and the results would have been the same.