GREAT DRIVES – NIGEL MANSELL 1991 AND 1992 BRITISH GRAND PRIX
Today in our occasional series on Great Formula 1 drives, we’re focusing on not one, but two of the best from Nigel Mansell. To be fair we just could choose between them so decided to feature them both.
The 1991 British Grand Prix
By 1991 Nigel Mansell had become the darling of British Motorsport fans and generated a fan mania that rivalled Monza’s Tifosi.
The circuit had been modified over the winter and was no longer the fastest on the F1 calendar but had become more interesting to both drivers and spectators creating more opportunities to overtake.
This was the era of pre-qualifying when Formula 1 was an open entry sport, and anyone could turn up and race. The British Grand Prix of 1991 had 34 entrants, however only 26 grid positions were available so lower teams had to pre-qualify to take part in main qualifying on Friday and Saturday.
Entering into full qualifying 4 drivers (Olivier Grouillard for Fondmetal. Nicola Larini and Eric van de Poele for Lamborghini, and Pedro Chaves, in the Coloni) had all been dropped.
In full qualifying Nigel Mansell took pole in front of his home fans by over half a second from Senna, with team-mate Patrese a full second down on his time, followed by Gerhard Berger, Alain Prost, Jean Alesi, Roberto Moreno, Nelson Piquet, Maurício Gugelmin, and Stefano Modena. Four further drivers were dropped in full qualifying those being Erik Comas in a Ligier, Stefan Johansson, in a Footwork, Fabrizio Babazza and Gabriele Tarquini, both in AGS-Fords.
This left a starting grid of 26 cars from 14 different teams.
On race day the drivers came to the grid in front of 130,000 fans with Ayrton Senna leading Mansell and Riccardo Patrese in the Driver’s Championship standings with Prost fourth.
Senna made the best start off the grid leading Mansell into the first corner. Mansell’s teammate Patrese was not so lucky and retired on lap one after colliding with Gerhard Berger. Senna’s lead was short lived as Mansell, visibly faster, passing the Brazilian going into Stowe corner.
It quickly became a 2-horse race as Mansell and Senna disappeared into the distance leaving Berger, Prost, and Alesi squabbled over third place. Jon Alesi won that battle but had to retire on lap 31 after colliding with Aguri Suzuki while trying to lap the Japanese driver’s Lola. In total 12 cars would retire over the course of the race.
Up front the duelling Senna and Mansell continued to battle it out in front of a packed-out Silverstone.
Mansell was in dominant form with Senna showing his class just to hang on to the Englishman. Although Senna was making a race of it, it was clear that Mansell had the measure of the reigning World Champion and was determined not be denied his victory in front of the huge partisan crowd. The result was in no doubt when on the penultimate lap Senna ran out of fuel which cruelly denied him a podium to the delight of the Mansell fans. Senna would be classified in P4 as the fifth place Piquet was a lap down.
As Mansell took the chequered flag, he had dominated the weekend with pole position, fastest lap, leading every lap of the race from start to finish, and winning by 42secs from Gerhard Berger and Prost.
On the wind down lap in a gesture typical of the showman Mansell, he pulled over to pick up Senna and give him a lift back to the pits and at the same time creating one of the iconic images in British Grand Prix history. Mansell now trailed Senna by only 18 points and momentum was on his side. It proved not to be his year when he suffered his now infamous Adelaide tyre blow out costing him the title at the very last race of the season.
The 1992 British Grand Prix
The 1992 British Grand Prix was a race of numerous firsts! It was the first year we would see a post-race track invasion which has since become something of a Silverstone tradition. It would also be successful for 3 future world champions with Damon Hill making his first start, for the Brabham team and Michael Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen both scoring their first points in Formula 1.
Changes to the pre-qualifying format meant Footwork driver Michele Alboreto automatically jumped into a full qualifying slot leaving Gabriele Tarquini and Andrea Chiesa of Fondmetal required to pre-qualify, alongside the two Venturi drivers of Gachot and Katayama, and the two Andrea Moda drivers of Moreno and Brit Perry McCarthy. At the end of pre-qualifying the Andrea Moda cars had been dropped along for the full qualifying session.
Mansell came to the 1992 British Grand Prix in magnificent form having been on the podium at every race and taken victory in six of the first eight races.
It would undoubtedly have been nine wins had it not been for his loose wheel nut in Monaco two races before.
At Silverstone Mansell’s raw speed was jaw dropping. He dominated qualifying, taking his eighth pole position of the year by nearly two seconds from Williams teammate Riccardo Patrese with a further 0.8 seconds back to Ayrton Senna’s McLaren in third. Alongside Senna on the second row was an emerging Michael Schumacher in the Benetton, with the other McLaren and Benetton of Berger and Brundle on the third row.
On race day the Mansell fan club again descended on the Northamptonshire circuit in even greater numbers than the year before. His amazing start to the season had given an air of anticipation that it could be a British driver lifting the World Championship, the first since James Hunt in 1976.
There was such a clamour for British success especially for Mansell since the near misses’ of 1986 and 1987.
Could he finally take the world title in 1992? It was clear he was in the best car in the Head/Newey designed Williams FW14B, yet he had also proven he was by far the fastest driver that year by utterly dominating his teammate.
The next best on the grid was a young Michael Schumacher who, although 40 points behind Mansell, was emerging as a potential future world champion in his first full season in F1. He could have been closer coming into the British Grand Prix had he not made a series of rash decisions in earlier races in particular the French Grand Prix earlier in 1992 causing him to record a number of DNF’s.
Whilst Mansell was the clear favourite, Martin Brundle, now in a competitive car and more than familiar with the circuit was also tipped for a podium. Could it be a double celebration for the two British drivers?
Lights out, and Mansell made a poor start giving Patrese the lead at the first corner. Patrese’s advantage didn’t last long and Mansell muscled past his teammate at Maggots in a manoeuvre that was almost dismissive in its aggressiveness. Mansell was on a mission and was not to be denied! Pretty much from this point the only question to be answered was who would make the other steps on the podium?
Brundle had got a flying start to move into third position. Schumacher had run wide in the entry to Maggotts and subsequently dropped to fifth behind Senna. He then lost a further position as Berger moved past down the Hangar Straight.
After only four laps, Mansell already had a lead of eight seconds over teammate Patrese who held only a small lead over Brundle in third position. Senna in fourth place continued to battle with Schumacher in the Benetton. Behind them came Herbert, Berger, Alesi, Comas and Häkkinen.
Mansell was relentless setting fastest lap after fastest lap, and on lap nine, broke the lap record for the new configuration of the Silverstone Circuit, as well as extending his lead over Patrese to fifteen seconds. Brundle in the meantime was running a comfortable third, Senna unable to catch him in fourth.
By lap 14, Mansell was lapping back markers while Brundle was losing time to Senna tailing him however while Senna undoubtedly was faster in the corners, the McLaren’s straight line speed could not match that of the Benetton.
Mansell who held a convincing 40 second lead made the decision to come in for new tyres with most of the field following suit.
With Herbert suffering gearbox failure, his Lotus teammate Häkkinen moved up to fifth position and at the midpoint of the race the top six were Mansell, Patrese, Brundle, Senna, Häkkinen, and Schumacher.
There were further retirements for both Venturi drivers Gachot and Katayama, as well as Gugelmin with engine failure in the Jordan. It would turn out to be a bad day for Jordan when the surviving Jordan of Modena was again hit by Schumacher, ending his race shortly after.
Further retirements from Alesi, De Cesaris, and Senna chasing Brundle, meant that Senna could now no longer regain the World Title.
In the final laps, Mansell pushed home his dominance breaking the lap record once again. Before crossing the line to take his 28th race win. Patrese took P2 from a delighted Brundle in P3.
If Mansell’s 1991 performance at the British Grand Prix was dominant, then his victory in the 1992 British Grand Prix was stratospheric.
His whole weekend had been almost perfectly executed. Pole position by 1.9sec, fastest lap and new lap record, and winning by 39 secs he had simply thrashed the competition.
The win, Mansell’s seventh of the season, moved him to 76 points in the Drivers’ Championship, with Patrese on 40 and Schumacher on 29. In the Constructors’ Championship, Williams had 116 points, with Benetton a distant second on 42 and McLaren on 38.
After the race the emotions of the day literaly poured on to the track as the British spectators invaded the race track to congratulate their hero. Mansell’s car was blocked by the crowd, preventing him from driving back to the pits. Eventually Mansell was returned to the pits by track marshals to attend the podium ceremony.
The win was the 28th of Mansell’s career, thus making him the most successful British Formula One driver of all time (at that time) in terms of wins (surpassing Jackie Stewart’s 27).